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 in overtime.
The top-seeded Badgers again proved their grit, rallying in the final 10 minutes to hold off 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 either No. 2 seed Arizona or sixth-seeded Xavier.
"The toughness that they showed today was really something," Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "It's strange, the difference between winning and losing is so small."
Marcus Paige hit consecutive three-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 comeback run after they were forced into tough positions by Carolina's perimeter defense.
"The plays he made for us in that two-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."
The teams shot exactly the same - 46 percent - for the game, but the Badgers improved to 58 percent in the second half and made 20 of 23 free throws to keep their hopes of a second straight Final Four berth alive.
"These guys have been through a lot. They've seen the good runs. They've seen the bad runs," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "But this group never gets discouraged to the point where they get down on themselves or their teammates, and that's what's fun."
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 finished with 12 points.
"We wanted to pressure them and not allow them to be comfortable, and we did that for the most part," Paige said. "The problem was we couldn't finish our defense on key possessions."
The Tar Heels appeared to have the game in hand when they were up by seven and Kaminsky went down with his hands covering his eyes, having gotten hit by Isaiah Hicks.
Turns out "Frank the Tank" was just getting his team revved up. With Kaminsky on the bench, the Badgers launched the 19-7 run that put them back in front, 65-60.