Last week Utah walked all over defending national champion Arizona. Saturday the Utes' victim was No. 1-ranked North Carolina.
Is there anything that can stop those unbelievable Utes?Well, they do have to play Kentucky, the same team they've lost to for the three of the past five NCAA tournaments Monday night for the national championship.
But for now, the Utes are basking in the glory of their latest greatest victory a 65-59 win over the Tar Heels, who lost in the national semifinals for the third time in the last four seasons.
The confident Utes came out quickly Saturday night, scoring the first six points of the game, and never looked back. They befuddled the Tar Heels with their dogged defense, they put a body on College Player of the Year Antawn Jamison all night and held him to 14 points on 7 of 19 shooting, and they unleashed Andre Miller - again - and he responded with 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists.
The Utes play their old nemesis Kentucky Monday night at 7:15 MST for the national championship.
"I can't tell you how happy I am," said Ute coach Rick Majerus. "I don't know if I'll ever get back here again. I mean, we are right there to win a national championship. At least we are playing for it."
"We're playing like it may be our only time to get here," said Ute forward Alex Jensen.
Besides Miller's 16 points, Michael Doleac also scored 16, while Hanno Mottola had nine and both Jensen and Johnsen had seven apiece.
One of the keys to the game was how thoroughly Majerus outcoached North Carolina's Bill Guthridge, the national coach of the year.
While Majerus constantly changed up his defenses and ran different players in and out of the game, Guthridge just seemed to sit on the bench like a senior citizen watching squirrels in the park. Utah would always use its full 90 seconds during timeouts, the Tar Heels would always come out and stand on the floor for 30 to 45 seconds waiting for the timeout to end.
After jumping out to a 35-22 halftime lead, the Utes looked to be in great shape. But they were playing the No. 1 team in the nation, one of the most revered programs of all time.
Majerus told his team the first five minutes of the second half "would be the most important of the game," and that the Utes needed to stop North Carolina's expected run.
The Utes maintained a 15-point lead throughout the first six minutes of the half, before the North Carolina run began. Vince Carter, who had the best game of any Tar Heel, scored twice inside and blocked two Utah shots at the other end to lead an 8-2 run that made it 50-41 with 11:11 left.
Utah didn't panic and when Doleac scored inside with 8:17 left, the Utes were up 11 at 56-45. That's when the Utes went into one of their famous funks and went without a point for more than four minutes and without a field goal for more than six minutes.
After starting out 1 for 17 from 3-point range, the Tar Heels suddenly hit two in a row as Carter's and Ademola Okulaja's treys cut the lead to 57-53 with 3:22 left. After a Utah turnover on a failed pass from Mottola to Doleac, the Tar Heels cut the lead to two on Ed Cota's 15-footer with 1:57 left.
The Tar Heels called a 20-second timeout, which probably was a mistake, because it gave Utah a chance to regroup. Miller took the ball coast-to-coast and his layup in traffic may have been the key bucket of the ball game.
"I figured they were going to press and I just took it all the way," said Miller.
Carter missed a free throw and then UNC fouled Hansen, who had struggled in several recent games from the line.
This time, however, he stepped up and swished two shots to make it 61-55 with 49 seconds left. Then Doleac, Mottola and Miller all added free throws to put the game away.
Shammond Williams added a late layup, but it was way too late. It was only his second basket in 12 tries, which nearly matched his abysmal performace in last year's semifinals when he went 1 for 13.
The Utes burst out of the gates quickly, picking right up where they left off a week ago against Arizona.
Mottola and Drew Hansen hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game and Doleac followed with a pair of baskets and just like that it was 10-2 less than two minutes into the game
The Tar Heels looked completely bewildered by the Utes' changing defenses as they missed seven of their first eight shots and turned the ball over twice.
Andre Miller scored on a drive and then his replacement Jordie McTavish nailed a trey from the corner and it was 15-2. Who was this Utah was playing, Azusa Pacific?
North Carolina came back within nine at 19-10 and the Tar Heel crowd got excited momentarily. But Doleac hit a turnaround, Johnsen made like Keith Van Horn and swished a 3-pointer from the corner. Miller hit two more shots on drives to push the lead back to 16 at 28-12.
The Utes got a little sloppy late in the half and Miller missed three straight foul shots or the Ute lead might have been more than 35-22 at the half. Actually it was remarkable they were able to hold such a lead considering that Doleac had to sit out the last eight minutes with two fouls and Mottola sat out the last four minutes with four fouls.
Utah's lineup the last few minutes of the half was as small a lineup as it has played all year with the 6-2 Miller, Drew Hansen, David Jackson and Trace Caton, all 6-5 and 6-9 freshman Britton Johnsen.
... First half Second half Total
Utah 35 30 65
N. Carolina 22 37 59