Gonzaga, Oregon, and South Carolina were all waiting to see who would join them in the Final Four. The North Carolina Tarheels and Kentucky Wildcats made them wait until the final second on Sunday to find out. Thanks to a Luke Maye jumper with 0.3 seconds to go, it is the Tarheels who will join them in Phoenix.
South Region Round-up – North Carolina Tarheels Move on to Final Four
Buzzer Beater Separates Blue Bloods
Wildcat Sophomore Malik Monk tied the contest with a miraculous three point shot with ten seconds remaining. However, as they have done all season, North Carolina quickly turned its opponents score into a fast break for themselves. The fact that this is part of their normal game plan, may have made the last second shot slightly less stressful for Maye. He smoothly received a pass from Theo Pinson, and calmly drained a shot that looked destined to go in when it left his hand.
Tarheels Control Beginning
After combining for almost 200 points in their regular season meeting, this match up was more slugfest than track meet early on. Neither team could get into an offensive rhythm early. Kentucky was hurt by early foul trouble to De’Aaron Fox and their other starters struggling.
North Carolina jumped out to a 6-0 lead to open the game. The Tarheels would keep a lead of at least four points the remainder of the half. Justin Jackson scored 12 of his 19 points in the first stanza. Wildcat senior Dominique Hawkins scored all ten of his points in the first half to keep his team in striking distance. Despite limited production from Fox, Bam Adebayo, and Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky was only down 38-33 at the break.
Battle of Runs
Kentucky would return the favor by scoring the first six points after halftime to take their first lead of the game. The teams then alternated runs as the half wore on. North Carolina would build its lead to five or six points, and Kentucky would then close the gap. Reserve big man Isaac Humphries would score 8 of his 12 points during a 10-2 run that pushed Big Blue Nation into the lead, 64-59.
Much like last Sunday against Arkansas, the Tarheels trailed by five points with time running out. Also like last Sunday, they picked the perfect time to go on a 12-0 run and propel themselves back into the drivers seat. North Carolina grabbed control, going up by seven points with a minute to play. The Wildcats then hit three triples to tie the game at 73-73 with ten seconds to go.
Luke Maye still had a little magic left though. His 17 points were second on the team to Jackson. However, his final two points meant the Tarheels were second to none in the South Region.
South Region Most Outstanding Player – Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Jackson averaged just under 20 points along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists per in the four South Regional games.
Valley of the Sun
North Carolina now heads to Phoenix to take on the Oregon Ducks in the Final Four. The South Carolina Gamecocks and Gonzaga Bulldogs square off in the other semifinal.
CHAPEL HILL, NC – FEBRUARY 18: UNC players on the bench react to a basket by their team. The University of North Carolina Tar Heels hosted the University of Virginia Cavaliers on February 18, 2017, at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in a 2016-17 Division I Men’s Basketball game. UNC won the game 65-41. (Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)