BIRMINGHAM, Albama (Ticker) -- A decade later, North Carolina did it again.
Their struggles of the regular season now a distant memory, the eighth-seeded Tar Heels shocked South Region top seed Stanford, 60-53, to reach the NCAA Tournament's "Sweet 16." In a victory eerily reminiscent of its second-round triumph over top-ranked Oklahoma in 1990, North Carolina (20-13) dominated the final eight minutes and will play Tennessee on Friday in Austin, Texas.
"Obviously that was a great win for us. I'm happy for the team," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "They worked hard and deserve it. Stanford is a great team, and to defeat them is great for us." In 1990, Rick Fox's leaner in the lane at the buzzer eliminated the Sooners, who were considered the best team in the nation.
"Our team is resilient," added Guthridge. "They help keep the coaches up and they work hard. I've always said that I really like this team. They have kept their heads up through the adversity this year." Today, the hero was freshman Joseph Forte, who drained back-to-back 3-pointers from the top of the key to cap a 10-0 outburst and give the Tar Heels a 53-47 lead with 3 1/2 minutes to play.
"It all started with our defense," Tar Heels center Brendan Haywood said. "We finally started boxing out, our defense put pressure on the shooters and we started clicking. Coach kept telling us we were just one step away. And nobody believed that but us." Stanford (27-4) became the second No. 1 seed to fall in the second round this season. The Cardinal join fellow Pac-10 Conference member Arizona as teams that will be watching the regional semifinals from home.
"It's a very numbing feeling that our season is over after as good a regular season as we had," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "You have to be aware that when you play teams of this quality, you run the risk of getting beat. My hat is off to Bill (Guthridge) and North Carolina and I wish them the best." Stanford, which also shared the Pac-10 championship with Arizona, appeared on the verge of taking control when Jarron and Jason Collins combined for six straight points for a 47-43 lead with 8:23 to go.
But Haywood, who dominated in the paint for the second straight game, converted a jump hook and Forte drove for a layup that tied it.
Following an officials' timeout, Forte, who this season became the first freshman to ever lead North Carolina in scoring, was good on consecutive 3-pointers from the top of the key to give the Tar Heels a 53-47 lead The Cardinal would get no closer than four points the rest of the way. The Tar Heels gave Stanford a chance by only going 5-of-9 from the foul line in the final 62 seconds.
North Carolina, which recorded its 30th straight 20-win season, has won all nine meetings between the schools.
Playing in the same building -- the Jefferson Civic Center -- in which they beat Kentucky to win the 1995 Southeast Regional and advance to the Final Four, the Tar Heels performed much better than they did during an 18-11 regular season.
Haywood, who scored a career-high 28 points with 15 rebounds in a first-round victory over Missouri, played strong underneath while point guard Ed Cota, the Tar Heels' all-time assist leader, controlled the offense.
"This was a big win for us," Cota said. "Everybody says this is an upset, but we knew we were capable of coming in here and winning two games. I am really happy that the freshmen and sophomores are going to the 'Sweet 16.'" Something had to give in this game. North Carolina entered the contest second in the nation in field goal percentage (49.9), while Stanford led the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.2).
Advantage, North Carolina. The Tar Heels, who were led by Forte's 17 points, connected on 44 percent (22-of-50) of their shots, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
Cota had 10 assists as the Tar Heels committed just eight turnovers and Haywood collected 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal were unable to hit from the outside. They shot just 34.5 percent (20-of-58) and were 6-of-22 from behind the arc. Freshman Casey Jacobsen, who came in averaging a team-best 14.8 points per game, was held to five on 2-of-12 shooting.
"We had good open looks today, but the caliber of play in the NCAA Tournament comes down to making plays," Stanford guard David Moseley said. "They made some huge plays today. It (losing) is an awful feeling." Despite the numbers, Stanford appeared to have too much early, building a 27-20 lead on Ryan Mendez's tip-in with 2:25 to play in the first half. But suddenly, the momentum changed hands.
Forte's running bank shot began an 8-0 first-half closing run. Julius Peppers had a three-point play during the burst as North Carolina grabbed 28-27 lead at the break.
Moseley, who scored eight points in the opening 6:13, led the Cardinal with 17 and also grabbed eight rebounds. Mark Madsen, nicknamed "Mad Dog," had five points and eight rebounds in his final collegiate game.
"David (Moseley) and I came in when the program was on the rise," Madsen said. "It's been fun to have a part in the improvement and the success of the program. I'm going to miss practicing with David because he came out every day and practiced so hard." .