- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 23 points, Frank Kaminsky added 19 and top-seeded Wisconsin rallied in the final 10 minutes to hold off North Carolina, 79-72, last night and advance to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Zak Showalter came off the bench to score six points in the Badgers' 19-7 comeback run that sent them into the West Regional final tomorrow against either No. 2 seed Arizona or sixth-seeded Xavier.
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 they owned for much of the second half.
"The toughness that they showed today was really something," Carolina coach Roy Williams said of Wisconsin. "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 (34-3) made all eight of its free throws - four by Kaminsky - over the closing seconds.
Paige added 12 points for the Tar Heels.
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.
The Tar Heels were trying to reach a regional final for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 2011 and '12. They appeared to have the game in hand when they were up by seven and Kaminsky went down with his hands covering his eyes.
Turns out "Frank the Tank" was just getting his team revved up.
With Kaminsky on the bench, his right eye reddened after being hit by Isaiah Hicks, the Badgers launched the 19-7 run that put them back in front, 65-60. Kaminsky quickly returned to hit a three-pointer, and Showalter scored four straight, including a layup off his own steal, putting the red-clad Wisconsin fans in full-throated cheers.
Carolina's Kennedy Meeks returned from a sprained left knee last weekend to bother Kaminsky early before getting in foul trouble.
Trailing by one, the Tar Heels outscored the Badgers 14-6 to take their largest lead, 53-46. Joel Berry and Hicks had four apiece while the Badgers struggled to make a shot.
"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."