MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Luke Maye etched his name in Tar Heel lore with his 20-footer on the left wing with 0.3 seconds to play to send North Carolina to its NCAA-record 20th Final Four with a 75-73 victory over Kentucky on Sunday.
The Wildcats erased a seven-point deficit with 54 seconds to play as Malik Monk tied the game at 73-73 with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with nine seconds left. Theo Pinson received the inbounds pass and charged up the court, finding a trailing Maye for the game-winner.
“It looked great going up,” Maye told reporters in the postgame locker room. “I thought it might have been a little long, but luckily it hit back rim and fell in. It’s a great feeling and I’m looking forward to next week.”
In a game that had no chance of living up to the first meeting in Las Vegas but did so anyway, the Tar Heels dug out of a 64-59 hole with under five minutes to play with a 12-0 run. Kentucky responded with a trio of 3-pointers in the final minute.
Maye, who arrived in Memphis as a UNC fan favorite and left as a national headline, was named the South Region's Most Outstanding Player after averaging 16.5 points on 63.1 percent shooting (63.5 percent 3FG) and 7.5 rebounds at FedExForum.
UNC shot 46.6 percent from the floor despite a seven-minute, 38-second field goal drought overlapping the halves while holding Kentucky to 41.5 percent shooting. Justin Jackson led UNC with 19 points, although it was Maye’s career-high 17 points that will be remembered in the South Region’s Elite Eight classic.
Berry Banged Up
Ten days ago, Joel Berry turned his right ankle when he landed on a defender’s foot in UNC’s first round win over Texas Southern. On Friday, the junior point guard sprained his left ankle after contact in the paint less than five minutes into the game.
He returned to the court four minutes later and finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting, four rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes.
Meeks Dominant Inside
Kentucky made its interior defensive intentions clear early, doubling the block on the entry pass and thereby limiting Kennedy Meeks’s offensive touches. The senior forward made his presence felt on the boards and on the defensive end, grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds and blocking four shots.
"It was just being aggressive," Meeks said. "Working tremendously hard on the defensive end and buying into what the team needs. We needed rebounding tonight. We didn't need scoring so much... My main job tonight was to play great defense and rebound, and that's what I tried to do."
End of Half Letdown
Maye’s dunk with 3:26 to play before halftime pushed UNC’s lead to 38-30. Despite Kentucky closing the half by missing nine of its last 10 field goal attempts, the Tar Heels only led 38-33 at the break.
UNC missed five field goal attempts and committed three turnovers in its last eight possessions of the half. Isaiah Hicks, who is shooting 79.7 percent from the charity stripe, capped the half by missing two free throws with 19 seconds remaining.
Stealing a Breather
With his team leading by five points and Joel Berry in the locker room tending to a sprained left ankle, Roy Williams rolled the dice early with a lineup short on starters and scoring potential. Stilman White, Nate Britt, Tony Bradley, Luke Maye and Theo Pinson played two minutes together and played the Wildcats even, thanks to White’s drive down the baseline for a reverse layup.
Tweets of Note
UNC travels to Glendale, Ariz. for its record 20th Final Four and will play Midwest victor Oregon on Saturday night. The Ducks upset top-seeded Kansas, 74-60, to advance to their first Final Four since 1939. Dana Altman’s squad is 33-5 on the season and has won 12 of its last 13.