LOS ANGELES – Wisconsin looked like a beaten team for much of the game.
Frank Kaminsky got off to a slow start, his team couldn’t make a shot in the first half and then fell behind by seven midway through the second half.
It looked like a repeat of the Big Ten Conference title game, when the Badgers were left for road kill against Michigan State before coming back to win.
The top-seeded Badgers again proved their grit, rallying in the final 10 minutes to beat North Carolina 79-72 Thursday night and advance to the final eight of the NCAA tournament.
Sam Dekker had a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, Kaminsky added 19 and Nigel Hayes 12 to send Wisconsin (34-3) into the West Regional final Saturday against No. 2 seed Arizona.
“The toughness that they showed today was really something,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “It’s strange, the difference between winning and losing is so small.”
Marcus Paige hit consecutive 3-pointers that drew Carolina within one with 54 seconds to go, but Wisconsin made all eight of its free throws – four by Kaminsky – over the closing seconds.
“Everyone knows that once we get to free-throw time at the end of the game, we’ve got to make our free throws or they’re going to come down and score,” Kaminsky said. “We’ve been through that a lot this season with situations like that. So it’s just nice to be able to go out there and do it.”
Zak Showalter came off the bench to score six points in the Badgers’ 19-7 rally after they were forced into tough positions by Carolina’s perimeter defense.
“The plays he made for us in that 2-minute span, we wouldn’t have won without them,” Hayes said. “This was similar to the Michigan State game except it didn’t go to overtime. We weren’t really playing our type of basketball. We were letting them have their way and their will. All we needed was a couple plays to get us going.”
Both teams shot 46 percent for the game, but the Badgers improved to 58 percent in the second half.
Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson scored 15 points each for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-12), who got within one with 4:21 remaining but couldn’t retake the lead. Paige had 12 points.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.