CHARLOTTE, N.C. As it turned out, home-court advantage didn't mean a whole lot in Saturday night's East Regional finals, as Louisville was basically able to overcome a Charlotte Bobcats Arena filled with Carolina blue.
What the Cards couldn't overcome was Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds and took over the game at several key points in the second half as the Tar Heels posted an 83-73 win in front of a partisan crowd of 19,092.
It was billed as a matchup of the two hottest teams in the country, and it played like a national championship game instead of a regional final. The Tar Heels established control early and then held off several second-half charges by Louisville to earn the 17th Final Four trip in the program's history.
The Cardinals had trouble in the first half keeping up with the frenetic pace the Tar Heels set. North Carolina had little trouble with Louisville's full-court pressure and consistently beat the Cards down the floor for easy transition baskets, and when UNC didn't convert, it was usually right there for the rebound and putback.
The Tar Heels (36-2) will play the winner of Sunday's Midwest Regional finals between Kansas and Davidson in the national semifinals Saturday in San Antonio.
Louisville got off to hot start, making four of its first six shots. But the Tar Heels established themselves early by controlling the boards. Carolina grabbed six offensive rebounds in the game's first eight minutes, and a tip-in by Marcus Ginyard gave them an early 14-9 lead.
North Carolina's lead reached double digits when Danny Green drove past Juan Palacios for a layup and Wayne Ellington added another rebound bucket off a missed three-pointer by Green to make it 25-15.
The Cards got back to within five (33-28) on a pull-up jumper by Preston Knowles, but the Heels went on a quick 7-0 run capped off by an Ellington three-pointer to push the lead back to 40-28 with 1:45 left in the first half. UNC lead 44-32 at the break.
Louisville started the second half much like the first, hitting on five of its first seven shots. But U of L got back in the game by tightening up on the defensive end.
Knowles also provided a big spark off the bench, going backdoor for a layup to bring U of L to within seven, 50-43, at the 15:54 mark.
Jerry Smith then worked free for a layup and drilled a three to cut the margin to one (56-55) with just less than 12 minutes remaining, and Earl Clark hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 59.
The Tar Heels blew a big lead in last year's East Regional finals against Georgetown but were able to hold on thanks to Hansbrough, who showed why he's the overwhelming favorite for Player of the Year honors.
Hansbrough scored 10 straight second-half points for the Heels and threw down an emphatic follow dunk and short jumper after Louisville tied the game to give UNC a 63-59 cushion.
The Cardinals would get back to within two, 66-64, on two David Padgett free throws with six minutes left, but Deon Thompson drove over Padgett for a bucket to push it back it out to four.
Point guard Ty Lawson then knocked down a pivotal three from the left corner that put the Cards in a 71-64 hole with 5:07 left.
Hansbrough finished things by sinking a pair of 15-foot jumpers, the last of which came at the 1:33 mark to give UNC a 75-66 advantage.
Smith led Louisville (27-9) with 17 points. Clark added 12 points and nine rebounds but also turned the ball over seven times.