Calipari: “It’s amazing that we were in the game where they practically fouled out my team.”
This isn’t to suggest that the Wildcats were wronged on every whistle. The two fouls called against De’Aaron Fox, who’d scored 39 points against UCLA on Friday, were silly. First he tried to draw a charge from Carolina’s Stilman White. Then Fox swiped White across the arms. Why exactly was maybe the best point guard in the country so concerned with a deep-dish sub known to Carolina fans as “Poor Stilman” for his overmatched emergency turn in a 2012 regional final?
Years from now — heck, hours from now — folks will note this game’s stats and wonder how it was ever close. Carolina hit a higher percentage of its field goals and its free throws and outrebounded Kentucky by 12. With 7:27 to play, Fox and Monk, who’d combined for 60 points versus the Bruins, had 14 between them — and somehow the Heels trailed.
“They outplayed us,” Calipari said. “But I am proud of these guys.”
With 5:03 remaining, Kentucky led 64-59. Williams called timeout, which as we know he hates to do, and the game changed. Pinson scored on a tough drive. Justin Jackson hit an even tougher shot from the lane. Pinson made two free throws. Within 101 seconds, the Heels were back in front.
As important as those points were, what Carolina did at the other end told the tale. Williams had his team switch to a zone, which he also hates doing, and it worked. Kentucky went scoreless on its next six possessions, after which it trailed 71-64 with 53.5 seconds remaining.
Then Fox hit a trey. Then Monk hit two. But before you could say, “Is this thing really tied?” it was tied no longer, untied forever.
Calipari: “I probably should have called timeout (after Monk’s tying hoop). It entered my mind, but they got it in so fast. I should have stopped that.”
Williams, asked if Maye’s winner was a designed play or a bit of improvisation: “A little bit of both. I like to try to score in the open court and we practice that every day.”
For most of the game, the Heels appeared the better team, and not by a little. Kentucky was reduced to getting points from Dominique Hawkins and especially Isaac Humphries, a 7-foot sophomore from Australia. It was unthinkable that a game featuring talents on the order Jackson and Fox and Monk had become a duel of jump shots between Maye (17 points) and Humphries (12), but there it was. March makes for strange bedfellows.
And uncanny symmetry. In the team’s December meeting in Las Vegas, Kentucky pushed the ball after a Joel Berry miss and saw Monk — who scored 47 points that night, 35 fewer than he managed this time — hit the winning 3-pointer. (Also: Carolina’s final possession was a Maye turnover.) When, in the midst of this celebration, one of his players mentioned that bit of transition that had bitten the Heels, Williams wasn’t sure if he meant Kentucky and Monk or Villanova and Arcidiacano-to-Jenkins.
“But it’s like that old Southern saying,” Williams said. “ ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a … ”
No reason he should. This time his team won.