Sunday’s NCAA: North Carolina beats Kentucky at buzzer
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 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 seconds left and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky, 75-73, to earn the Tar Heels’ second straight 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 straight 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. Maye, a 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 straight 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 (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 star trio of 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 9 a couple times before both teams went into shooting
South Carolina 77, Florida 70: At New York City, Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 and South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four.
The seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) used their trademark swarming defense and some solid free throw shooting to beat their fellow Southeastern Conference Gators (27-9).
South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona.
“Anyone that’s in sports dreams of moments like this,” said Gamecocks coach Frank Martin, who was doused with water and dancing as soon as he entered the locker room. “It’s not something that you start dreaming it the year you win 25 games. You dream it every single day.”
There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.
Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a 4-point lead.
“Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays,” Thornwell said.
South Carolina 77, Florida 70
North Carolina 75, Kentucky 73
Oregon 74, Kansas 60
Gonzaga 83, Xavier 59
At Glendale, Ariz.
South Carolina (26-10) vs. Gonzaga (36-1), 6:09, CBS
North Carolina (31-7) vs. Oregon (33-5), 8:49, CBS
Winners, 9 Monday, CBS