Top seeds Florida, North Carolina advance to regional finals

Mar 24, 2007 - 9:31 AM By PA SportsTicker

The "mid-majors" are dead and the power conferences are back in vogue in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 1 seeds Florida and North Carolina survived tougher-than-expected tests to keep all four top seeds alive as the field was whittled to eight teams Friday night.

The defending champion Gators (32-5) stayed on track for a second straight national title by turning back pesky fifth seed Butler, 65-57, in a Midwest Region semifinal game.

North Carolina (29-6) also ousted a fifth seed, rallying from a 16-point second-half deficit to oust Southern California in a 74-64 East Region victory.

Seeds held form in Friday's other two regional semifinals - barely in one case.

Jeff Green, the Big East Conference Player of the Year, banked home a jumper with two defenders draped all over him to lift No. 2 Georgetown (27-6) to a 66-65 victory over sixth-seeded Vanderbilt.

In what appeared to be the only lopsided matchup, No. 3 Oregon (29-7) almost squandered an 18-point lead before holding on to defeat Nevada-Las Vegas, 76-72, in the second Midwest Region matchup.

Florida posted its ninth consecutive win in the tournament but it wasn't easy as Butler held a 54-53 lead with 3:33 to play.

The Gators, who needed a last-second shot to beat the Bulldogs in a 2000 NCAA matchup, didn't let this one go down to the wire as Al Horford converted a three-point play and Corey Brewer hit a jumper from the baseline to make it 59-54 with 1:42 to play.

"I think our team knew coming into this game that it was going to be difficult," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And certainly there was a clear indication yesterday by all the games, just how close and the margin for error is so small."

Taurean Green hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Horford added 16 and Joakim Noah 13 and nine rebounds for Florida, which meets Oregon in the regional final on Sunday.

North Carolina had to follow the script of fellow No. 1 seed Ohio State a night earlier, erasing a double-digit second-half lead to advance.

The Trojans used a 15-0 spurt bridging halftime to take a 49-33 lead with 17:41 to play. But the Tar Heels scored 18 consecutive points and closing the game with a 41-15 run to overcome USC.

"We feel very lucky that we are still playing," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

With leading scorer Tyler Hansbrough limited to a season-low five points, freshman Brandan Wright scored 21 points, including 11 in the final 11:18.

The game turned when USC freshman center Taj Gibson picked up his fourth foul with 12:25 to play.

The Tar Heels immediately exploited his absence in the middle, scoring their next 15 points on follow shots, layups and dunks. Marcus Ginyard came off the bench and finished with 10 points, including three put-backs in the surge.

"It was important to us, no question. He had nine rebounds at halftime," Williams said of Gibson's foul troubles.

Carolina will take on Georgetown in the regional final Sunday in a rematch of their 1982 NCAA title game 25 years ago.

The Hoyas almost didn't hold up their end against Vanderbilt, which was looking to avenge an 86-70 regular-season home defeat to Georgetown.

The Commodores burst out to an 18-6 lead, fell behind by three points late and came back to take a 65-64 lead on two free throws apiece by Derrick Byars and Dan Cage.

Georgetown put the ball in the hands of Green, who was swarmed by a pair of defenders at the right side of the lane after he fumbled the ball. With the clock winding down, Green went straight up and banked home a jumper with 2.5 seconds left for the victory.

"I like to have the ball in my hands at that point in the game because I have confidence that I can make plays," Green said. "I just tried to explode over the double-team and get it up off the glass."

While the Hoyas went to their big man, Oregon relied on its smallest player.

Tajuan Porter, a 5-6 freshman guard, hit eight 3-pointers and scored 33 points to help the Ducks advance to a regional final for the first time since 2002.

Although he became just the fifth player to make eight baskets from the arc in either a regional semi or final, Porter missed a couple of key free throws that helped UNLV pull within two points with 10 seconds left.

Teammate Bryce Taylor finally ended the suspense by sinking two foul shots with four seconds left to send Oregon to its seventh regional final.

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