INDIANAPOLIS -- With relentless energy and stifling pressure, Florida wore down yet another opponent and will play for its first national title.
The Gators, using the same 10-man rotation, full-court press and balanced scoring that brought them to the Final Four, ended North Carolina's improbable tournament run with a 71-59 victory Saturday night.
Florida (29-7) will meet Michigan State, which beat Wisconsin 53-41, in Monday night's national championship game at the RCA Dome.
Freshman Brett Nelson led the Gators with 13 points, while Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem added 10 each.
"Our guys played with great intensity," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "North Carolina did a great job to get back into it. I'm just proud of the kids to get this far."
An 18-3 lead in the opening eight minutes made it look as though the fifth-seeded Gators wouldn't need the late edge that brought them earlier wins over higher-seeded teams like Illinois, Duke and Oklahoma State.
But the Tar Heels (22-14), an eighth seed who many felt shouldn't have even made the tournament field but found their way to a record-tying 15th Final Four, were back in the game by halftime.
"We really battled. I think we did wear out there," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "This team gave us a great ride to get here."
The Tar Heels had a 50-46 lead with 13:31 to play.
North Carolina point guard Ed Cota picked up his fourth foul just 13 seconds later and despite not being removed the game, his lack of aggressiveness played into Florida's hands. The rest of the Tar Heels now had to handle the pressure and it helped wear them down. The Gators took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Major Parker with 11:02 left and that started a 9-4 run.
During that span North Carolina managed just one field goal mostly because Cota, who finished with eight assists, just wasn't the same.
Donovan said midway through the second half, "about the 10-minute mark, we started to wear them down."
The Tar Heels, making their third Final Four appearance in four years, have lost four straight national semifinal games.
"Maybe he did cost us a basket or two, but we had to have Ed in there," Guthridge said of the decision to keep his point guard in the game. "What hurt us was on the offensive side when we couldn't seem to get a basket after we got that lead."
Brendan Haywood had 20 points, 16 in the first half, for the Tar Heels, while freshman Joseph Forte had 15, 13 in the second half -- and 10 of those came in an early two-minute burst.
This was Florida's second Final Four appearance, the first -- in 1994 -- ended with a semifinal loss to North Carolina's archrival, Duke.
Led by the 34-year-old Donovan, only the sixth man to play and coach in a Final Four, these Gators have run by their opponents after surviving a 69-68 first-round scare from Butler. Miller won that game with a shot at the buzzer, and Florida got to practice on Butler's home court this week in preparation for the Final Four.
Parker's 3-pointer came less than a minute after he and Forte were charged with double technicals for an incident under the basket. Nelson sandwiched a jumper and a 3-pointer around a 3 by Forte to keep the deciding run going.
Florida finished with a 43-42 rebound advantage with Brent Wright, Donnell Harvey and Miller each grabbing seven. Haywood led the Tar Heels with 12 and Jason Capel added 10.
Florida finished 25-for-64 from the field (39 percent), the 17th straight opponent North Carolina has held under 50 percent. But the Tar Heels struggled themselves, shooting 35 percent (20-for-57).
Florida jumped to the 18-3 lead as the Tar Heels struggled from the field, making one of their first eight shots, and with the ball, committing five turnovers.
"I thought our guys had great intensity to start the game. North Carolina took some ill-advised shots," Donovan said.
Kenyan Weaks' 3-pointer with 11:43 to play in the first half gave the Gators the 15-point lead, but North Carolina made four of its next five shots and Haywood's layup on a pass from Cota had the Tar Heels within 21-17 with 7:50 left.
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