North Carolina (30-7, 14-4 ACC) vs. Kentucky (32-5, 16-2 SEC)
Memphis, Tenn. – FedExForum
Sunday, 5:05 p.m.
CBS (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery)
"We came to North Carolina to be in these type of games, to play against the top players in the country. I don't think it could be on any better stage." -- UNC wing Justin Jackson
"If somebody beats you, you want to have a chance to play them again. It doesn't mean you're going to beat them the next time, but you do have that. And because we're not in the same league, we knew that if we played them again that it would have to be in the NCAA Tournament, so you would hope it is as far down the line as you possibly could." -- UNC head coach Roy Williams
“It helps both teams that we play because we'll know each other pretty well. And let me say this: North Carolina is so good, and they've been so good all year. Guard play, size, rebounding, fly, being able to score, Jackson will get 40. He had 40 on us last game we played. Roy has done a great job with his team, and I'm looking forward to the game just because I like my team, and we've got a good group of kids, and I'm jacked up. I'll sleep tonight because I'm getting old and I'm tired, but I'm excited that we're still doing this with this group of kids.” – Kentucky head coach John Calipari
Heels Halfway Home: After UNC rallied past Arkansas in Greenville, Roy Williams spoke candidly to his team about that type of upset scare being necessary for a long tournament run. The Tar Heels built a 30-13 lead against the Razorbacks only to fall behind by five points late. In Friday’s win over Butler, UNC led 30-14 early, but prevented its opponent from making a similar charge. Williams’s team stayed aggressive throughout, not letting the lead slip into single digits over the final 24 minutes, and punched its ticket to the Elite 8 with a 92-80 win. Sophomore forward Luke Maye was UNC’s X-factor, scoring a career-high 16 points and collecting 12 rebounds off the bench. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry both found their strokes after recent inconsistent play, combining for 50 points.
UK overpowers UCLA: Kentucky advanced to the South regional final on Friday night with an 86-75 win over No. 3 seed UCLA, thereby pushing its winning streak to 14 games. The first half was arguably the most competitive of the tournament with 15 lead changes between the teams, but the Wildcats doubled down defensively after intermission to ride their lead to victory. The Wildcats’ defense held the Bruins to their second-lowest point total of the season. Freshman guard De’Aaron Fox turned in arguably the best performance of the tournament, as his 39 points were the most by a UK player in the NCAA Tournament since 2002, and the most ever by a freshman. Equally impressive was Fox’s ability to limit UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball, who was held to 10 points on 4-10 shooting. Freshman guard Malik Monk added 21 points and four 3-pointers in the victory.
Kentucky Spotlight: John Calipari’s squad entered the NCAA Tournament on the heels of winning its third straight SEC Tournament title. As has become an annual occurrence, the Wildcats posted one of the best records in college basketball due to stellar play from some of its star freshmen. Both Monk and Fox were named first-team All-SEC. Their production has helped the Wildcats rank 10th nationally in scoring average (85.2 ppg). UK has few weak spots in its lineup. The Wildcats rank 12th in the NCAA in offensive efficiency (119.5), seventh in defensive efficiency (91.7), 16th in average possession length (15.3), and sixth in turnover percentage (6.3), per kenpom.com.
Bam Falls Silent: Freshman forward Bam Adebayo is averaging 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, helping him earn second-team All-SEC honors. In Kentucky’s Sweet 16 victory over UCLA, however, Adebayo was a nonfactor. The 6-foot-10 forward was held to just two points and four rebounds in 37 minutes. Calipari will need Adebayo to bounce back from the that performance against UNC’s ample frontcourt on Sunday.
Matchup to Watch: If the Wildcats have any weakness on the court, it’s their perimeter shooting. Kentucky is shooting 35.2 percent (165th) from 3-point range this season. While UK struggled from deep in their NCAAT opener against Northern Kentucky (3-of-17), the Wildcats have shot 41.2 percent from beyond the arc over the last two games. The team’s success from outside is largely dependent on Monk’s production, as the freshman guard attempts 3.5 more treys than anyone else on the team. The Wildcats were able to ride Monk’s shooting (47 points, eight 3FG) in their victory over UNC earlier this year. The Tar Heels are in similar waters. The Tar Heels primarily rely on Berry and Jackson to convert from deep. Berry is shooting 40 percent from three this year, while Jackson is at 38.3. For two teams who like to sprint down the court and have both proven they can put up 100 points on each other, expect the team that can be most efficient from outside to prevail.
Last Meeting: Kentucky defeated UNC, 103-100, in Las Vegas on Dec. 17. Monk stole the show with his 47 points on 18-28 shooting. Justin Jackson scored a season-high 34 points in the loss, while Joel Berry added 23.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 23-15, and has won seven of the last 12. The Tar Heels are 11-5 against the Wildcats at neutral sites.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 14.7 ppg, 3.6 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 18.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg
1 Theo Pinson (6-6, 211, Jr.) – 5.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg
5 Tony Bradley (6-11, 240, Fr.) –7.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg
0 Nate Britt (6-1, 175, Sr.) – 4.7 ppg, 2.4 apg
32 Luke Maye (6-8, 235, So.) – 5.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Projected Kentucky Starters:
5 Malik Monk (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 20.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg
12 Isaiah Briscoe (6-3, 210, So.) – 12.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg
0 De’Aaron Fox (6-3, 187, Fr.) - 16.8 ppg, 4.6 apg
3 Edrice Adebayo (6-10, 260, Fr.) – 13.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg
35 Derek Willis (6-9, 228, Sr.) – 7.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
15 Isaac Humphries (7-0, 255, So.) – 2.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg
32 Wenyen Gabriel (6-9, 213, Fr.) – 4.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg
25 Dominique Hawkins (6-0, 191, Sr.) – 4.5 ppg, 1.7 apg