EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The night completely had unraveled on Tim Floyd, USC's best shot reduced to a glancing blow. They had come in waves and waves, Carolina blue trampling the Trojans with fast breaks that looked like they were shot out of cannons in the frantic final minutes Friday night.
So, there was Floyd watching one of his stars, Taj Gibson, foul out in the final moments, watching an upset bid diagrammed right from his old coach Don Haskins' defensive chalkboard come tumbling down on him. In his hands, he had a couple sheets of paper, so he just walked out on the floor and tossed them in the air. This was his way of saying bleep it, a fit of frustration born out of the locomotive that had come thundering down the tracks.
The Tar Heels beat the Trojans 74-64, beat them going away, despite a moment in the second half when USC had the Heels humbled and trailing by 16 points. It was a moment when UNC players kept looking to Roy Williams, waiting for the timeout he wouldn't call. "He's just telling us to get the ball up the floor and continue to play," Marcus Ginyard said. "He has a ridiculous amount of confidence in this team."
For as ridiculously talented as these Tar Heels are, as deeply stocked with talent as anyone in the nation, why wouldn't Williams? Eventually, North Carolina imposed its will on USC, and so here comes the 25th anniversary of Michael Jordan's jumper and Fred Brown's wayward pass in the 1982 national title game. Here come Carolina and Georgetown on Sunday, this time with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Every No. 1 seed has had its scare in these NCAAs, and Carolina had its turn with the Trojans. For most of the early part of the night, resistance was futile in the face of the Trojans. USC's lead kept swelling, running into double figures, until Carolina wore down the Trojans with its staggering ability. Throughout this tournament, the story has been the two freshmen destined to go first and second in the NBA draft, Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant, but here were those condor wings of Brandan Wright, the 6-foot-9 Heel freshman, who has made a strong bid to be that No. 3 pick should he make the leap.
"Nah, I'm not even thinking about that right now," he would say after his 21 points and nine rebounds and damage done in that late-game barrage of 18 straight points that reduced USC to rubble. There will be a time for Wright, but Friday night, with Tyler Hansbrough limited to five points, Wright made these Tar Heels his own.
"[Wright] had both armpits above the rim," Floyd said.
He hadn't played his best basketball in this tournament, but Wright was brilliant with his team looking at elimination. They'll need his best to beat Georgetown, which has the length inside to contend with Carolina's size. There's no time to waste trying to win a national championship with Wright on the floor, because the kid would be running some risk on returning as a sophomore.
Everything is here for the Heels now, everything in place. Those guards, Ginyard and Ty Lawson, finally got loose, and ran the ball down the Trojans' throats. Some scary sight in the Jersey Meadowlands, some frantic, fabulous finish to the Sweet 16. Once the rocks start rattling at the top of the mountain, unsettling and starting to tumble, the avalanche comes. And when it does, Tim Floyd takes those papers in his hands, tosses them in the air and the USC Trojans are done.
They never knew what hit them.
- Tim Floyd
- Brandan Wright
- Tar Heels