Teresa M. Walker
MEMPHIS, Tenn.: Roy Williams went all Scarlett O’Hara when a player asked about his North Carolina Tar Heels making the last shot Sunday to edge Kentucky to the Final Four.
And the coincidence that the Tar Heels have been on the other end of similar shots recently, like in the 2016 national championship and a wild December game against the Wildcats.
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a ...,” Williams said with a smile, responding without asking which game his player was remembering as they went to the locker room. “I didn’t care what he was talking about.”
Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 of a second left and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels’ second consecutive trip to the Final Four, winning a showdown of college basketball’s elite in the South Regional.
The national semifinal will be the 20th for North Carolina, where the Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.
North Carolina took control with 12 consecutive points over the final 5 minutes, a run similar to what it used a week ago to beat Arkansas. The Tar Heels finished this game with a 16-9 run. Kentucky’s freshmen De’Aaron Fox hit a 3 and Malik Monk quickly added two more, one with 7.2 seconds left and defenders in his face to tie the game at 73.
“I probably should have called time out,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “It entered my mind, but they got that son of a B in so quick, I couldn’t get to anybody to do it. I needed to stop that right there.”
Theo Pinson drove enough toward the basket to pick off Maye’s defender, then passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.
“I just kind of stepped back, and he gave me the ball and I just shot it, and luckily it went in,” Maye said. “It was a great feeling.”
Maye finished with a career-high 17 points off the bench for North Carolina. Justin Jackson scored 19 points, and Joel Berry II added 11 on a sprained left ankle.
The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis’ inbounds pass went out of bounds on the far end.
Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second consecutive year. Willis and sophomore Isaac Humphries left the court with towels over their heads, and Fox was the last to leave.
The Wildcats had hoped their talented freshmen would carry them. Bam Adebayo and Fox each had 13 points, and Monk, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, finished with 12. Fox and Adebayo wept side by side in the locker room.
“That shot is just playing back and forth in my head,” Fox said. “It’s going to be difficult to get over.”
Never before had the NCAA Tournament pitted powerhouse programs that have so dominated March. This South final featured Kentucky with the most tournament wins all-time with 124 and North Carolina just behind with 120 (now 121).
This was just the fourth time these blue bloods have met in a regional final. The result was much the same as the others, with North Carolina now 3-1 against Kentucky as the Tar Heels avenged a 103-100 loss on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas.
Kentucky led for less than 4 minutes in a game North Carolina had a big edge on the boards (44-34) and inside, where the Tar Heels outscored the Wildcats 34-26.
Officials didn’t help the flow of this game calling fouls left and right, though Kentucky took the brunt with its three star freshmen all picking up two fouls each in the half. Fox played only 8 minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul with 12:23 left. Adebayo easily was the most frustrated as he missed all five shots in the half with Kennedy Meeks swatting away one of his dunk attempts.
North Carolina led by as much as nine a couple times before both teams went into shooting slumps. The Tar Heels led 38-33 at halftime.
Kentucky: Nobody has played in more Elite Eights than the Wildcats with this their 33rd overall and sixth under Calipari. Kentucky now is 5-2 with Calipari in regional finals. Fox and Monk combined for 71 points in the December win over North Carolina led by Monk’s 47. This time, they combined for 25.
North Carolina: Memphis and the South Regional have been very good to the Tar Heels. This is the second consecutive time the Tar Heels have been the region’s top seed and advanced to the Final Four through Memphis, and now they can only hope to replicate their success of 2009 when they won the program’s fifth national title. Williams improved to 9-4 in regional finals overall and 5-3 at North Carolina.