MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The North Carolina Tar Heels now are a win away from getting back to a national championship game they narrowly lost a year ago.
And this time, they made the last shot.
Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels’ second straight trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday’s showdown of college basketball’s elite in the South Regional.
The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, in the national semifinal.
“We get to keep playing,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
North Carolina took control with 12 straight points over the final 5 minutes, a run similar to what it used a week ago to beat Arkansas. The Tar Heels finished this game with a 16-9 run. Kentucky’s freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick 3s, the last two by Monk. Monk’s second shot with 7.2 seconds left and defenders in his face tied it up at 73.
Theo Pinson brought the ball down and passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.
“I’m the guy that wanted him to come as a walk-on, so how dumb am I?” Williams said. “He (made) some big-time plays today, big-time plays two days ago.”
Maye finished with 17 points off the bench for North Carolina. Justin Jackson scored 19 points, and Joel Berry II added 11.
The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis’ inbounds pass went out of bounds on the far end.
Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second straight year. Willis and sophomore Isaac Humphries left the court with towels over their heads, and Fox was the last to leave.
The Wildcats had hoped their talented freshmen would carry them. Bam Adebayo and Fox each had 13 points, and Monk, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, finished with 12.
Never before had the NCAA Tournament pitted powerhouse programs that have so dominated March. This South final featured Kentucky with the most tournament wins all-time with 124 and North Carolina just behind with 120.
But this was just the fourth time these blue bloods have met in a regional final. The result was much the same as the others with North Carolina now 3-1 against Kentucky as the Tar Heels avenged a 103-100 loss on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas.
Kentucky led for only 3:57 in a game North Carolina had a big edge on the boards (44-34) and inside where the Tar Heels outscored the Wildcats 34-26.
Officials didn’t help the flow of this game calling fouls left and right, though Kentucky took the brunt with its star trio of freshmen all picking up two fouls each in the half. Fox played only 8 minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul with 12:23 left. Adebayo easily was the most frustrated as he missed all five shots in the half with Kennedy Meeks swatting away one of his attempted dunks.
North Carolina led by as much as nine a couple times before both teams went into shooting slumps. The Tar Heels led 38-33 at halftime.
Kentucky: Nobody has played in more Elite Eights than the Wildcats with this their 33rd overall and sixth under Calipari. Kentucky now is 5-2 with Calipari in regional finals.
North Carolina: Memphis and the South Regional have been very good to the Tar Heels. This is the second straight time the Tar Heels have been the region’s top seed and advanced to the Final Four through Memphis, and now they can only hope they replicate their success of 2009 when they won the program’s fifth national title. Coach Roy Williams improved to 9-4 in regional finals overall and 5-3 at North Carolina.
North Carolina plays Oregon in the national semifinal. Kentucky prepares for another batch of freshmen heading to the NBA.