Love hits two big three-pointers to lift North Carolina
PHILADELPHIA — Caleb Love hit game-tying and go-ahead three-pointers 37 seconds apart and North Carolina moved within a victory of its 21st Final Four, beating UCLA, 73-66, on Friday night in a March Madness matchup of power programs.
Love, a sophomore, finished with a career-high 30 points, including six threes and two game-clinching free throws with 7.8 seconds left. He scored 27 of Carolina's 45 points in the second half, including one stretch of 10 straight that kept the Tar Heels (27-9) in the game.
North Carolina's next game is Sunday against Saint Peter's in a first-of-its-kind 8-vs.-15 matchup in the Elite Eight. The 15th-seeded Peacocks topped Purdue, 67-64, earlier in the evening. Every bit as tantalizing, the Tar Heels and their archrival Duke, which plays Arkansas on Saturday, are each one win away from a matchup at the Final Four in New Orleans next weekend. The teams have never played each other in the NCAA Tournament.
Nobody stood out more over five hours of hoops in Philly than Love, who was held to five points in last week's win over Baylor, but managed one point more than that during the decididng 37 seconds. His go-ahead three came with 1:03 left and marked the last of 14 lead changes in the game that was also tied eight times.
Fourth-seeded UCLA (27-8) fell two wins short of its 20th Final Four. Last year's trip to the national semifinals ended on a shot from near half court by Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs. This time, Love did in the Bruins, who got 16 points from Jules Bernard and 15 from Tyger Campbell.
In their second-round win over Baylor, the Tar Heels squandered a 25-point lead only to pull things together and pull out the game in overtime.
That game got dicey once Brady Manek got tossed for throwing an inadvertent elbow. Manek played all but two minutes in this one and finished with 13 points.
Armando Bacot had 14 points and 15 rebounds for North Carolina, the most crucial of which came when he tipped in a miss by R.J. Davis with 15 seconds left to build Carolina's lead to five points — the biggest it had been to that point.
But this game, especially the second half, belonged to Love, who started heating up as soon as he came out of the locker room. He scored seven of North Carolina’s first 12 points of the half, then, with the game tied at 44, scored 10 in a row for the Tar Heels.
Those included a pair of twisting, practically no-look layups and an NBA-range three-pointer. He followed that with a heat-check trey, jacked up from the elbow under pressure. It missed, but that didn’t stop him.
Notes & quotes: In a rarity for the NCAA Tournament, or any basketball game played outside a playground, the teams went exactly 9 full minutes to start without a single whistle stopping play. UCLA led 18-14 at that point. Then, sadly, reality hit with two TV timeouts over the ensuing 29 seconds of action ... UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. played all but two minutes despite the ankle he sprained last week against Saint Mary's. He had 10 points and five rebounds but shot 1-for-11 in the second half ... This was North Carolina's 129th victory in the tournament, which ties Kentucky for the all-time lead.