Carolina took round two of the mega matchup against Kentucky. There was less scoring this time but players are expected to strap up when the stakes get this high. Both these bluebloods laid it all on the line for a trip to Phoenix. This game went down to the wire, and at the final buzzer an unsung hero etched his name in Tar Heels lore for eternity.
The chants rang out “Luke Luke Luke!” after sophomore Luke Maye forward buried the Wildcats with seconds left. One shot in a split moment defined 39 minutes of play and determined the fate of both teams.
In a contest of runs, Coach Calipari’s squad fought hard and went basket for basket with the Heels. A lot was mentioned about the youth but both these coaches have relied on contributions from proven veterans throughout the tourney whether it be statistical, or mental toughness and leadership. For UK Isaiah Briscoe logged in the most minutes 34 out of a possible 40. Big man Isaac Humphries really kept his team in it with superb shooting when adversity hit.
The seven-footer netted 12 points coming of the pine. Senior Dominique Hawkins also provided a spark off the bench and offered up a solid defensive presence.
ACC POY Justin Jackson has been on a mission since last seasons debacle in the big game. He went from a third option to full blown star this season and he’s looked more confident this season. The junior has scored the ball more efficiently than ever. He’s made almost three times as many treys this season than last. All conference floor general Joel Berry played tough through some ankle issues and made big plays for the Heels. We knew this team was set up for a deep run with these two studs leading the way.
Carolina did well limiting the Cat’s dynamic backcourt duo. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk struggled from the field and battled foul trouble. Locking up on these two is no easy task, as both are on postseason awards lists and are potential lottery picks in June. With Berry and Fox missing on the floor respectively both teams looked different.
Bam Adebayo concluded his one college season in Kentucky blue with a productive night as expected. He banged in the paint against a deep UNC front court. The big man via High Point, NC, will be tough to replace next season. We saw a small sample size of talented freshman Tony Bradley, he scored six points in eight minutes and came up with a big block. Between Maye and Bradley the future frontcourt of UNC looks scary good.
This was an Elite Eight game but it had the feel and intensity of a national title matchup. UNC can take momentum from this win and carry it into the rest of the tournament. They were doubted but never gave up the Carolina blue showed what ACC hoops are about.
Looking Ahead – Kentucky will see some key parts bolt for the draft as usual but Coach Cal always reloads and next year won’t be any different. Carolina moves on for a matchup with a scorching hot Oregon team fresh off an upset of top overall tournament seed Kansas.
UNC will need another good team performance in order to return to the title game and exorcise those demons that haunted them last year.