Foul issues help end Kentucky's season shy of Final Four
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Foul trouble stymied Kentucky in the first half. A North Carolina zone caused issues in the closing minutes.
Even with those hurdles, North Carolina needed a jumper from Luke Maye with 0.3 seconds left to end the Wildcats' season, eliminating Kentucky 75-73 in the South Region final of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Kentucky guard Malik Monk had just knocked down the second of his two 3-pointers inside the final 40 seconds, this one with 7.2 seconds remaining. Maye's shot left Kentucky only a final gasp that never materialized as senior Derek Willis' length of the court pass sailed out of bounds.
''It just sucked the life out of all of us, man,'' Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo said of Maye's game-winner. ''It's hard to score with 0.3 seconds on the clock.''
The loss ended a 14-game winning streak for Kentucky (32-6) and kept the Wildcats out of the Final Four a second straight year. The Wildcats were in tears in the locker room.
''I just can't believe we lost,'' Adebayo said. ''It's tough to lose on a last-second shot like that.''
Coach John Calipari and Kentucky dealt with early foul problems. Fox, Monk and Adebayo each picked up two fouls each in the first half. That led to a makeshift lineup and a loss in firepower. Fox scored a tournament-high 39 points in Friday night's semifinal win over UCLA. Monk was the Southeastern Conference player of the year and Adebayo averaged a double-double during the 14-game winning streak.
''It's amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team,'' Calipari said. ''There were a lot of stuff that went on, and our kids fought through it. I told them at halftime, it is what it is. It was a terrific game. I just wish we could have played the first half with a full roster.''
Monk said the Wildcats fought through the foul trouble as best they could.
''We was in the game, we had a chance to win and we just didn't get the job done,'' Monk said.
These teams played on Dec. 17, with Kentucky winning 103-100 as Monk knocked down the game-winning shot. The regional final was as tight as expected from two of college basketball's premier programs with high-profile coaches - Calipari and Roy Williams of North Carolina. There were five lead changes, five ties and neither team ever led by double digits.
Kentucky reversed a Tar Heels lead with about 5 minutes to play with a 10-2 spurt. Little-used Isaac Humphries, who hadn't scored more than 2 points in a game since Feb. 11 against Alabama, collected 8 of his 12 points in a rally that left Kentucky up 64-59.
But Williams changed to a zone defense, fueling a 12-0 run for North Carolina. Calipari anticipated the move, but Kentucky reacted too slowly to the defensive shift.
''We did not quite execute,'' Calipari said. ''We kind of weren't in the spots we were supposed to be in. And it kind of started from there.''
Kentucky clawed back with a trio of 3-pointers - one from Fox and a pair from Monk in a final furious flurry.
''Someone said: `Well what happened?''' Calipari recounted of the final minutes. ''I said: `I don't know,' and I'll probably never know. Because I won't watch this tape. I never watch the last tape of the season. I've watched enough tape all year. I've watched a thousand tapes. I'm not watching a thousand and one.''
The question now is how many Wildcats will return for another season and who will become Calipari's latest one-and-dones. Freshmen Fox, Adebayo and Monk all declined to discuss the topic of the NBA draft.
''I'm just worried about my other teammates and how they're doing,'' Adebayo said.
''This isn't a locker room that looked like guys don't care,'' Fox said between tears before putting his right arm around Adebayo and pulling him close. ''I love my brothers, man.''
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