MEMPHIS -- Almost 25 years to the day of the most infamous opposing shot in Kentucky basketball history, the Wildcats suffered another heartbreaker on Sunday in the South Region finals of the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina's Luke Maye stroked an 18-foot jumper from the left wing with less than a second remaining to give the Tar Heels a thrilling 75-73 win over the Wildcats at FedExForum.
The shot conjured memories of another ACC forward wearing No. 32, Duke's Christian Laettner, draining a long jumper to beat
Maye's heroics nullified a spirited rally by Kentucky which saw the Cats tie the game at 73 on a flurry of 3-pointers by De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk to erase a seven-point deficit in the final minute of play.
"They made a big 3," Maye said of the final sequence. "Monk hit it over my hand, and then Theo (Pinson) just drove down court and kind of was penetrating towards the basket and kind of picked my man a little bit. And I just kind of stepped back, and he gave me the ball, and I just shot it, and luckily it went in. It was a great feeling."
"We always say if it's more than six seconds attack, we're going to attack, we're not going to call a time-out," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "It was 7.2, I think, when they scored, and I was just screaming go, go, go. And Theo goes down the court and finds Luke, and Luke made a big-time shot."
Maye, a former walk-on, finished with 17 points off the bench for the Tar Heels. He was their second-leading scorer on the day with star wing Justin Jackson pumping in 19.
Kentucky coach John Calipari -- like former UK boss Rick Pitino on the legendary Laettner shot that beat the Cats in what is often called the greatest college basketball game ever played -- was left second-guessing his strategy on the decisive play.
"When that (Monk) 3 went in and it tied the game, I probably should have called a time-out," 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. But I needed to stop that right there.
"But hats off to Carolina. What a great team. Well-coached. Roy deserves to be there. They out-played us, but I am proud of these guys. Really am."
North Carolina (31-7) advances to Final Four next week in Phoenix where it will face Oregon in one of the national semifinals. First-time Final Four participants South Carolina and Gonzaga will square off in the other semifinal.
Kentucky (32-6) saw its season end on a night when it could not overcome 41.5-percent shooting from the field and severe foul trouble. The Cats played most of the first half without freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox, who picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes coming off his 39-point game against UCLA on Friday in the Sweet 16. He never got going against the Heels, finishing with 13 points on a 5-for-14 shooting effort.
Monk, who had scored a school freshman record 47 points in UK's 103-100 December win over UNC, was sitting on six with under a minute to play before draining two clutch 3s. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field.
Fox, Monk and freshman center Bam Adebayo watched most of the first half from the bench as reserves like Dominique Hawkins (10 points), Isaac Humphries and Mychal Mulder helped keep the Cats close. Despite having very little offensive firepower on the floor, the Cats trailed only 38-33 at the half.
The teams traded blows for most of the second half before Kentucky took a 64-59 lead, its biggest of the game, with just over five minutes remaining. Humphries pushed his shocking points total to 12 and appeared poised to be the unlikely hero that Maye would ultimately become.
North Carolina, however, countered with a 12-0 run to regain control of the game and set up the final dramatic sequence.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the game...
WHAT WENT WRONG:
It looked like Kentucky had finally gotten over the hump -- or the Humph, so to speak -- when Isaac Humphries got on perhaps the most unexpected scoring roll in UK's storied NCAA Tournament history. The 7-foot sophomore center from Australia, who entered the tourney averaging 2.7 points per game, scored eight of the Cats' 10 points in the spurt which saw them take a five-point lead with 5:10 remaining. But North Carolina coach Roy Williams called a timeout in an effort to stop the bleeding, and the Heels emerged in a zone defense that helped turn momentum back in their favor. Kentucky's offense stalled, going five straight trips without scoring. Meanwhile, Theo Pinson rattled in a baseline drive and sank four free throws as part of the 12-0 run that put UNC ahead 71-64 and set up the dizzying finish. Had
Luke Maye, North Carolina -- Before Sunday it would have taken the most diehard of college hoops fan to pick the Heels' sophomore forward out of a proverbial police lineup. But thanks to his late heroics for UNC, it's safe to say he will now occupy a spot in the Hall of Villains occupied by the likes of Christian Laettner, Ricky
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Loss for Kentucky playing in the city of Memphis. The Cats had won their previous 15 games there.
3-1 - North Carolina's record against
9 - Blocked shots by UNC was a season-high against the Cats.
17 - Rebounds for UNC center Kennedy Meeks, who helped the Heels win the battle of the glass 44-34.
26-6 - The Cats' record under Calipari in NCAA Tournament games.
"You know, 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." -- UK coach John Calipari.
Kentucky turns its focus to the off-season, awaiting the inevitable draft decisions of several players, potential transfers in the works for others, and putting the finishing touches on what appears to be another No. 1 recruiting class for 2017. The Cats have zeroed in on five-star center Mohamed Bamba, the nation's No. 2 prospect, and five-star small forward Kevin Knox (No. 7) as potentially the final pieces in another stellar class which already includes five elite prospects to go along with mid-year signee Hamidou Diallo.