By Jamie H. Vaught
It was a long Sunday afternoon for the Wildcats, who trailed most of the Elite Eight showdown with North Carolina. But they nearly sent the classic matchup to overtime when freshman sensation Malik Monk's three-pointer tied it at 73-73 with 7.2 seconds remaining.
The hurried Tar Heels (31-7), though, raced back and scored on a game-winning basket by 6-foot-8 sophomore Luke Maye with .3 seconds left as they earned a Final Four trip to Phoenix with a 75-73 victory on Sunday, March 26 in Memphis.
The loss ended UK's remarkable campaign with a 32-6 mark.
Commented Kentucky coach John Calipari, "Hats off to Carolina. What a great team. Well-coached. Roy (Williams) deserves to be there. They outplayed us, but I am proud of these guys. Really am."
Foul-plagued Kentucky, which was behind for over 35 minutes, had a balanced scoring attack with five players in double figures. Freshmen Edrice Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox each had 13 points. Monk and Isaac Humphries pumped in 12 points each. Senior Dominique Hawkins (pictured) hit 10 points. Isaiah Briscoe had 8 assists and 3 steals.
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North Carolina was led by 6-8 junior forward Justin Jackson with 19 points. Maye, the new Tar Heel hero, finished with 17 points, including 2-of-3 three-point field goals, in 20 minutes. Kennedy Meeks, a 6-10, 260-pound senior, grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds along with 4 blocked shots and 7 points.
Unlike Friday night's 86-75 win over UCLA which saw the Wildcat scoring machine of Fox & Monk light up the FedEx Forum scoreboard with 60 total points on 21-of-37 shooting, the Fox-Monk duo only came up with 25 points as Kentucky's 14-game winning streak -- the nation's longest active run -- ended. Fox and Monk each had four fouls at the end.
The Tar Heels, who committed 16 turnovers (as compared to UK's 9), outrebounded the Wildcats by a 44-34 margin.
Added Calipari, "It's amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance. So proud of how these guys fought. So proud of Isaac. Can you imagine his first real opportunity to do this was in this game, and he performed? Amazing."
Both schools, by the way, now have combined for 245 NCAA Tournament wins. No other game in college basketball history had featured two teams with as many combined NCAA Tourney victories as Sunday's 2017 South Regional final.
Photo by UK Athletics