A gimmick defense got the Utes a trip to the Final Four. Good, old-fashioned man-to-man put them in the championship game.
A week after a 25-point laugher over defending national champion Arizona, Utah held on for a 65-59 upset of top-ranked North Carolina on Saturday and advanced to the national championship game for only the second time in school history.
On Monday night, Utah will face Kentucky, which beat Stanford, 86-85, in overtime in the other semifinal. Kentucky knocked Utah out of the tournament the last two seasons and also in 1993.
"It is another chance at them," said Michael Doleac, who had 16 points for Utah. "You work the whole season to get here. We never knew how far we could come but now we have a shot."
Against Arizona last Saturday in the West Regional final, Utah coach Rick Majerus went with a triangle-and-two defense and held the Wildcats to 28 percent shooting.
Against North Carolina, the nation's top shooting team at 52 percent, the Utes went straight man-to-man and lived up to their title as the No. 2 field goal defensive team in the country. The Tar Heels shot just 39 percent (27 for 69), including 3 for 23 from three-point range.
"I'm so proud of our defensive effort," said Majerus, taking Utah to its first championship game since it won the title in 1944. "We got the great start early and got confidence. Then they gave a great effort and we countered. It was really a wonderful game."
The Tar Heels lost for the second straight year in the semifinals; they were knocked out by Arizona in Indianapolis. And the loss ended the great rookie season of 60-year-old Bill Guthridge, who replaced Dean Smith after sitting beside him for 30 years.
Guthridge took the Tar Heels (34-4) back to the Final Four, just the seventh time a first-year coach got his team to the semifinals. He also set the record for victories by a first-year coach, but it wasn't enough to get the Tar Heels to their eighth national championship game.
Andre Miller, who had the first triple-double in Utah history against Arizona, scored 16 points and added 14 rebounds and six assists.
"I basically try to rebound all the time," Miller said. "They take a lot of long jump shots and that means a lot of long rebounds. I try to be wherever the ball goes. I had 14 rebounds against Arizona and the big guys were playing great defense, why not help them out and get some rebounds."
North Carolina's Vince Carter said he did more than that.
"He did a great job to get his team here," Carter said. "He plays hard and refuses to lose. How many point guards get 14 rebounds and still get six assists? He did it all tonight."
Carter scored 21 points for the Tar Heels on 10-for-16 shooting, the only Carolina player to shoot better than 50 percent, while Antawn Jamison had 14 points on 7-for-19 shooting.
Shammond Williams, who was 1 for 13 in last season's 66-58 Final Four loss, went 2 for 12 this year, finishing with seven points.
"It was an off night for me," Williams said. "For the second year in a row, I've come here and haven't been able to make a jump shot. They ran a box-and-one, triangle-and-two on me all night and it was effective. It shouldn't have been that effective. I should have been able to help my team in other ways. Unfortunately, it cost us the game."
It seemed like North Carolina was going to end its season as Arizona had -- at the wrong end of a big score against Utah. The Tar Heels, however, had a different ending planned and almost got it.
Trailing by 15 points six times in the second half, North Carolina used an 8-2 run to get within 50-41 with 11:15 to play, the first time it was within single digits since the 11:35 mark of the first half.
Utah (30-3) started to struggle and the Tar Heels chipped away.
A three-pointer by Carter made it 56-50 with 4:25 left; a trey by Ademola Okulaja made it 57-53 with 3:24 to play; and a driving basket by Ed Cota had the Tar Heels within 57-55 with 2:02 left.
A layup by Miller gave Utah back a four-point lead with 1:51 left and the Utes made six of 10 free throws over the final 49 seconds to seal the victory.
"I said to them at halftime, 'Look, the first five minutes of the second half are the most important. Everyone in the game knows that,' " Majerus said. "We had to make sure we maintained our discipline to our shot structure and I was upset with a couple of shots, but not many."
North Carolina knew the early deficit would be tough to overcome.
"It took us a long time to get going and we probably had a chance there at the end, but we just couldn't get over the hump," Guthridge said.