Down by 16 points early in the second half, the Tar Heels suddenly shifted into another gear and startled Southern California 74-64 on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals.
Despite off games by Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, the Tar Heels (31-6) saved themselves and set up a regional final Sunday for college basketball fans to savor: North Carolina vs. Georgetown, a rematch of the 1982 championship game that Michael Jordan won in the closing seconds.
Fifth-seeded USC (25-12) was putting on a dunking exhibition and led 49-33 with 17:42 left before it all fell apart. Trojans coach Tim Floyd threw his program onto the court after a call in the final minute and was whistled for a technical foul.
By then, Wright and his teammates had already done plenty to frustrate Floyd's team and were well on their way to their seventh straight victory.
Wright scored two straight baskets on offensive rebounds to get the Tar Heels within 57-49, then the freshman was a key part of a 13-0 run that put them ahead for the first time since the opening minute.
"It was a fantastic comeback, to say the least," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. "I have a great deal of confidence in my team. ... I knew we wouldn't give up."
North Carolina reached the round of eight for the second time under Williams, who won the 2005 title with the Tar Heels.
Earlier at the Meadowlands, Georgetown beat Vanderbilt 66-65 on a last-second shot. Wright finished with 21 points and nine rebounds. He somehow offset Hansbrough's 1-for-6 shooting for five points and Lawson's four points.
Freshman Taj Gibson had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Trojans.
Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and Gibson took turns throwing down dunks in the first half as the Trojans more than matched North Carolina's up-tempo style. Pointing their index fingers, slapping hands after big plays and popping the "USC" on their jerseys, they looked like schoolyard kids having fun.
Floyd said his team plays with "youthful exuberance" and it showed from the get-go. Pointing their index fingers, slapping hands after big plays and popping the "USC" on their jerseys, they looked like schoolyard kids having fun. Floyd got into the act, too, hollering, "Go get it! Go get it!" during loose balls. Williams could barely watch on the other bench, putting his hands on his head and turning away after an airball. The Trojans scored the last eight points of the first half for a 42-33 lead, then scored the first seven after the break, capped by Lodrick Stewart's 3.
At that point, the Tar Heels trailed by 16 and were in serious trouble. Then they started playing the kind of basketball that has consistently made them among the biggest winners in the sport.
The Trojans attacked inside early, taking it right at Hansbrough. The rugged 6-foot-9 sophomore ripped out his mouthpiece at one point, upset that the Trojans were getting the better of him.
In the second half, though, the Tar Heels had their way inside.
They dominated the second half as Southern California seemed powerless to stop the surge. The Trojans were trying to reach the round of eight for the first time since 2001. It was not to be, despite such a strong start.
North Carolina led for a grand total of 17 seconds in the first half. That was at 1-0 on a foul shot by Marcus Ginyard, who started when Reyshawn Terry was slowed by strep throat.