MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kentucky and North Carolina slugged it out again Sunday, a different kind of fight from their shootout in December, and this time the Tar Heels delivered heartbreaking revenge: a 75-73 victory in the Elite Eight.
Kentucky trailed by 7 in the final 50 seconds but Malik Monk’s 3-pointer with 8 ticks left improbably tied the game. That only set the stage for Luke Maye, a former walk-on, to deliver the dagger: a winning jumper from the left wing with 0.3 seconds left.
With that, the Wildcats (32-6) fell just short of their 18th Final Four appearance and fifth in eight seasons under coach John Calipari. This one will sting, as Kentucky rode unlikely hero Isaac Humphries to a 5-point lead with 5:03 remaining, only to surrender 12 unanswered points.
Player of the game
Humphries hadn’t played double-digit minutes since Jan. 31 and had produced just 8 total points in the previous 11 games. But the 7-foot Australian gave Kentucky a chance in game where star guards De’Aaron Fox and Monk didn’t show up until the final moments. He had 12 points, 5 rebounds and a steal in 21 minutes off the bench.
Stat line of the game
Monk and Fox hit just 9 of 24 shots as North Carolina’s length clearly bothered both guards. Fox, coming off a 39-point outburst against UCLA in the Sweet 16, couldn’t get a clean shot off. He drove at will again but found towering shot-blockers inside. The Tar Heels recorded 9 blocks and altered several other attempts.
With UNC surging late, up 3 with two and a half minutes to go, senior Derek Willis missed a tying 3-point try, Tar Heels guard Joel Berry hit a driving shot off the glass, Monk committed a turnover and then missed a 3-point try badly. It put Kentucky in a near-impossible position in the final minute — and the Wildcats still nearly came back. Monk and Fox hit three 3-pointers in that last gasp.
What’s next for Kentucky basketball
The Wildcats await several key decisions, anticipating a mass exodus. Seniors Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder are definitely gone. Fox, Monk and fellow freshman star Bam Adebayo are expected to leave for the NBA draft and sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe could join them. Others, like Humphries and little-used freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones, could have transfer decisions to make as well. Luckily for UK, it has another No. 1-ranked recruiting class on the way, including six top-50 prospects in the Class of 2017.
Kentucky vs. North Carolina box score