Maye’s last-second shot downs UK, denies Cats trip to Final Four

Anthony Crawford

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the last game to play before the Final Four was set, No. 2 UK men’s basketball and the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels combined for a classic in the South Regional Final. In the heralded matchup between blue bloods, UNC came out on top and earned the last bid to Phoenix with a 75-73 victory over UK.

The game was back-and-forth throughout and displayed some of the best basketball of the tournament. The Tar Heels, however, avenged the regular season loss to the Cats thanks to a game-winning shot from Luke Maye with .3 second left to play.

UNC led for the entire first half, and jumped out to an initial 6-0 lead as UK struggled out of the gate. Then the official struck as the Tar Heel’s best perimeter defender Theo Pinson picked up his second foul just 4:08 into the game.

Right before he left the game for most of the first half, freshman De’Aaron Fox jump-started the UK offense once again, scoring the team’s first five points. Fox had UK hanging right with UNC, until he picked his second foul and was forced to sit for the last 12 minutes of the first half.

With Fox on the bench and UK’s two other star freshman, Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk struggling, UK was forced to look elsewhere for scoring just to keep from being blown out by the Tar Heels. Senior Dominique Hawkins proved to be part of the solution early nailing two threes in the first half and leading the team in scoring with 10 points.

The Tar Heels really flexed their strength inside and jumped out to a lead as big as nine in the first half behind the teams plus-five rebounding margin (24-19) and 18 points in the paint in the first half.

UK scrapped back into the game thanks to the play of Isaiah Briscoe. Briscoe’s impact was all over the floor in the first half as he went into the locker room with five points, four assists and three rebounds. He also came up big with three steals. 

Thanks to the play of Hawkins, Briscoe and a late four-point burst from Monk, UK was able to weather four of its starters be whistled for two fouls in the first half (Monk, Fox, Adebayo and Derek Willis) and trailed only 38-33 at the half.

Out of halftime, UK went on a 6-0 run to give the team its first lead of the game at 39-38. UNC started slow missing its first five shots and turning the ball over four times in the first four minutes of the second half.

The veteran Tar Heels responded with a 9-2 run after losing the lead behind the play of their bigs inside. Senior Kennedy Meeks came up big all game for UNC finishing with seven points and 17 rebounds. 

UK continued to have answers, though, and most came from the big second half from Adebayo. The freshman struggled from the field in the first half but turned into a one-man wrecking crew in the second. Whether he was cleaning up missed shots or showing nice touch on jump hooks in the lane, UNC struggled to slow him down.

Adebayo finished the game with 13 points — all but one coming in the second half — and seven rebounds.

UK eventually was able to pullout to a 64-59 lead surprisingly behind the play of sophomore Isaac Humphries. In the first half he helped UK on the glass in Adebayo’s absence, but in the second he was knocking down his shot as he finished the game with career-high 12 points.

The Tar Heels responded with a 12-0 run following that to give them a seven-point lead with 54 second left in the half. 

Refusing to go down, back-to-back threes made it a one-point game for UK. And then after UNC beat UK’s press to get a layup inside and go up three, Monk responded with a cold-blooded three to tie the game with nine seconds left. 

The Tar Heels would have the final say before the game went into overtime, though, as Maye came up even bigger, hitting a shot with 0.3 second left to give UNC the win over UK.

He finished with 17 points, including a stretch where he scored six straight points for UNC off a three and then and-one inside. Maye was also named the South Regional Most Outstanding Player for his two big time performances in his two games.

The Cats finish with a 32-6 record and just miss out on going to the Final Four for the fifth time since John Calipari became head coach.