CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. --- Three years ago, an upstart North Carolina team used a win over Duke at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships as a springboard to the No. 1 national ranking and the program's first trip to the Final Four.
Three years later, Carolina will have that chance again as the No. 8 Tar Heels rallied from a 3-1 deficit to upset No. 4 Southern California, 4-3, in the national indoors quarterfinals Saturday at the Boar's Head Sports Club. UNC (6-0) will face No. 3 Duke in Sunday's semifinals for a spot in the final.
USC (6-1) took the early lead thanks to its extremely talented doubles lineup that features the nation's best duo. The No. 1-ranked pair of Sabrina Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian defeated No. 8 Ashley Dai and Whitney Kay for the third time in 2012-13, 8-3, before Danielle Lao and Giuliana Olmos topped No. 51 Lauren McHale and Tessa Lyons, 8-3, to clinch the point.
"USC came out with great intensity and purpose after losing doubles yesterday and they really put us on our heels," UNC head coach Brian Kalbas said after the match.
But the Tar Heels bounced back in fine fashion, winning first sets on four of six courts to open singles.
"We challenged them after doubles and they really responded," Kalbas said of his team.
No. 36 Caroline Price continued her strong spring by finishing first on court five with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Olmos to briefly tie the dual.
But the Trojans took the next two matches at the top of the lineup courtesy of No. 14 Danielle Lao and No. 17 Santamaria to push the Tar Heels to the brink.
No. 65 Dai got it to 3-2 with her 6-2, 6-3 win over Christian on court six, but Carolina still needed to get a pair of three-setters from there.
No. 21 Kay and No. 111 McHale both cruised to relatively easy opening-set wins before their opponents from USC responded to extend the respective matches.
Things looked bleak for UNC in those third sets as McHale trailed 4-2 to No. 56 Gabriella DeSimone on court four and Kay was down 3-0 to No. 19 Zoe Scandalis on court three.
"We were down on both courts but we found a way," Kalbas said. "I challenged Whitney at 0-3 and she stayed composed and played some tough, tough pressure tennis. Lauren was feeding off the energy of her teammates and to all our players' credit, they got tougher and stronger at the end of the match."
McHale won four straight games to close out her 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 win over DeSimone and even the dual at 3-3.
Kay, the freshman from Alpharetta, Ga., did her senior teammate one better, digging out of a 3-0 hole to win 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 to send the Tar Heels into Sunday's semifinals.
Standing between Carolina and the final is Duke, who topped Vanderbilt 4-1 earlier Saturday. The winner of the crosstown rivalry will face the UCLA-Georgia winner in Monday's final.
"This win really shows the depth of our team," Kalbas said. "We always say that we're not defined by any one point and that we're going to be competitive throughout every match. Today really showed us that we're never out of any match."
Sunday's match is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. and live scoring is available at VirginiaSports.com.
No. 8 North Carolina 4, No. 4 USC 3
1. #1 Kaitlyn Christian/Sabrina Santamaria (USC) def. #7 Ashley Dai/Whitney Kay (NC), 8-3
2. #13 Gabriella DeSimone/Zoe Scandalis (USC) vs. Gina Suarez-Malaguti/Zoe De Bruycker (NC), 7-4, unfinished
3. Giuliana Olmos/Danielle Lao (USC) def. #51 Lauren McHale/Tessa Lyons (NC), 8-3
Order of finish: 1, 3
1. #17 Sabrina Santamaria (USC) def. #11 Gina Suarez-Malaguti (NC), 6-3, 6-2
2. #14 Danielle Lao (USC) def. #28 Zoe De Bruycker (NC), 6-3, 6-2
3. #21 Whitney Kay (NC) def. #19 Zoe Scandalis (USC), 6-2, 5-7, 6-3
4. #111 Lauren McHale (NC) def. #56 Gabriella DeSimone (USC), 6-1, 4-6, 6-4
5. #36 Caroline Price (NC) def. Giuliana Olmos (USC), 6-2, 6-2
6. #65 Ashley Dai (NC) def. Kaitlyn Christian (USC), 6-2, 6-3
Order of finish: 5, 2, 1, 6, 4, 3*