By LARRY VAUGHT
Just when it looked like Kentucky was ahead to another Final Four, the bottom fell out and then the Cats took a dagger to the heart at the end.
Sophomore Isaac Humphries, who had a sensational game with 12 points and five rebounds in 21 minutes, hit a shot with 5 minutes, 5 seconds to play to give UK a 64-59 lead and cap a 17-6 Kentucky run.
But North Carolina switched to a 2-3 zone, hit some difficult shots and then got an 18-footer from Luke Male with .03 left to beat Kentucky 75-73 and earn its Final Four berth while ending UK’s season at 32-6.
After getting the five-point lead here is what happened to UK’s offense: 1. Bam Adebayo had a shot blocked. 2. De’Aaron Fox missed. 3. Derek Willis missed a 3-pointer. 4. Malik Monk had a turnover. 5. Monk missed badly on a 3-point shot.
“We missed — we didn’t execute great, but we missed open shots,” Calipari said. “Then we took a bad shot. And then you take a turnover, and all of a sudden it’s a 12-0 run. I want to say that, you know, we needed to make one to stem the tide and try to win the game, and we just missed them all. But how about, the game was tied up? What were we, on a 6-0 run at the end? What were they seeing? These were two teams just slugging at each other.”
North Carolina had a 71-64 lead when UK’s offense went missing. Fox ended UK’s scoring drought with a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left. Monk hit a 3 after a 5-second violation against North Carolina to cut the lead to 71-70. After a Carolina score, Adebyao turned the ball over. But UK got the ball back after a missed free throw and Monk hit a sensational 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game.
“When that 3 went in and it tied the game, I probably should have called a timeout. It entered my mind, but they got that son-of-a-b in so quick, I couldn’t get to anybody to do it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. But I needed to stop that right there.
“Someone said, well, what happened? I said, I don’t know, and I probably will never know because I won’t watch this tape, and I never watch the last tape of the season. Watched enough tapes all year. Watched a thousand tapes. I’m not watching a thousand and one.”
What happened was that UK left Mate open as Carolina pushed the ball down the court and he hit the game-winner.
While that shot eventually set off a wild Carolina celebration, it brought tears in the Kentucky locker room.
LEX18 videographer Jonathan Dunn had a picture from the UK dressing room of Fox crying and saying, “I love this team, I love this program.”
Joe Mussatto of SECCountry.com posted a video on Twitter of Fox and Adebayo embracing and crying in what he called a “very emotional” scene.
That caught the attention of Fox Sports’ Shannon Spake, who always covered Kentucky basketball for ESPN before switching jobs this season.
“Wow. A reminder that these kids are more than what we see on the court,” Spake posted on Twitter.