MEMPHIS, Tenn. — John Calipari didn’t open his postgame press conference with thoughts on Malik Monk’s impossible-looking 3-pointer to tie Kentucky’s Elite Eight game with 7.2 seconds to go Sunday. Kentucky’s coach didn’t start out talking about Luke Maye’s gut punch of a winning jumper with 0.3 seconds left that sent North Carolina on to the Final Four.
“You know,” he said upon sitting down in front of a microphone, “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.”
Kentucky was called for 19 fouls, North Carolina 18, but Wildcats starters De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Derek Willis finished the game with four apiece. Fox, Monk and fellow freshman star Bam Adebayo spent huge chunks of the first half on the bench in foul trouble.
But is that really what sunk Kentucky, which had a five-point lead with five minutes to go, then allowed 12 unanswered points and made a series of ugly mistakes on the offensive end?
“Five minutes to go, I told the staff in the huddle, ‘They’re going to go zone.’ Some guys argued. I said, ‘They’re going to go zone,’ ” Calipari said. “And we did not quite execute. But they never stopped (trying) and … I told them, they’ve got to self-reflect because we made some plays, some individuals made some plays down the stretch, like, ‘What were you thinking?’ But young kids.
“And the second thing is I’ve got to look at myself. When that three went in and it tied the game, I probably should have called a timeout. 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.”
Indeed, Kentucky did have one timeout left after Monk’s tying 3-pointer. Instead, UNC inbounded quickly, sprinted the floor and dished to Maye, who’d popped out on the left wing, where it looked as if any one of Willis, Fox or Isaiah Briscoe (who threw up a late hand in Maye’s face) should’ve had tighter defense. Alas …
Here are the other highlights from Calipari’s final postgame press conference of the 2016-17 season:
- “Someone said, ‘Well, what happened?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, and I probably will never know because I won’t watch this tape,’ and I never watch the last tape of the season. Watched enough tapes all year. Watched a thousand tapes. I’m not watching a thousand and one. But hat’s off to Carolina. What a great team. Well-coached. Roy deserves to be there. They outplayed us, but I am proud of these guys. Really am.”
- Isaac Humphries, who had just 8 total points in the previous 11 games, went wild for 12 points and 5 rebounds Sunday. He gave UK that five-point lead with five minutes to go. “So proud of Isaac,” Calipari said. “Can you imagine, his first real opportunity to do this was in this game, and he performed? Amazing.”
- Calipari circled back to the officiating when asked about a seemingly bad goaltending call on Adebayo in the first half that took away a UK basket. “There was a lot of stuff that went on and our kids fought through it,” Calipari said. “I told them at halftime, ‘It is what it is. And you’ve got to beat who’s out there. Let’s go and don’t worry about it.’ But don’t take anything away from North Carolina. I mean, you think of the plays they made, down five, to get back, and I mean, it was bang-bang. And then us to come back and tie the game and then they make one at the buzzer? Come on. It was a terrific game. I just wish we could have played the first half with a full roster.”