MEMPHIS, Tenn. >> Roy Williams still has not watched the tape of the 2016 national championship game and likely never will. The North Carolina coach sure has done his best to make sure his Tar Heels know how to hit game-winning shots.
Now all that practice with a 15-second shot clock has paid off with a trip back to the Final Four.
Luke Maye knocked down a jumper with 0.3 seconds left today, answering Malik Monk’s tying 3 and lifting North Carolina over Kentucky 75-73 in the South Regional final.
Williams had a timeout but chose to let his top-seeded Tar Heels run the ball back up-court.
“We practice that way every day,” a soaked Williams said. “Believe it or not, we have practices where we play with a 15-second shot clock because I want them to push the ball hard enough to get a great shot in 15 seconds, not just throw it up. We’ve won a few games like that.”
A year ago, Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left to tie the national championship game at 74. Then Kris Jenkins won the title for Villanova knocking down a 3 as time expired. It’s a loss Williams still calls a heartbreaker.
Williams said Maye’s game-winner isn’t redemption for the Villanova loss but noted he yelled at Paige after this win. Paige was Facetiming with Eric Hoots, North Carolina’s director of player development.
“And he was so happy for us,” Williams said. “But I’m really happy for this team and the work that they’ve put in, the toughness that they’ve shown, and they’re just, they’re wonderful kids.”
Now the Tar Heels (31-7) are headed for a record 20th Final Four and a game Saturday against Midwest Region champ Oregon. They also improved to 3-1 against Kentucky in regional finals — the only place these college basketball behemoths have met in the NCAA Tournament.
They tapped into their experience with Williams able to start two seniors and three juniors, while second-seeded Kentucky (32-6) started only one senior, a sophomore and a trio of talented freshmen. Junior guard Joel Berry II said last season helped the Tar Heels know what it takes to play at this stage.
Those who played in that loss to Villanova have seen this season as their chance at redemption.
“We want to win a national championship,” Berry said. “We don’t want to just make it to the Final Four. We want to go there and win it.”
Maye finished with 17 points, his second straight game with a career-high.
“I just kind of stepped back, and he gave me the ball and I just shot it, and luckily it went in,” Maye said of his game-winner. “It was a great feeling.”
Kentucky led for less than 4 minutes in a game North Carolina had a big edge on the boards and inside.
North Carolina led by as much as 9 a couple times before both teams went into shooting slumps. The Tar Heels led 38-33 at halftime and still needed a 12-0 run to take control.
The loss left De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo weeping side by side in the Kentucky locker room.
“That shot is just playing back and forth in my head,” Fox said. “It’s going to be difficult to get over.”
Now the Tar Heels will try to repeat what happened the last time they won the South Region in Memphis back in 2009. That year they went on and won the national championship, which they haven’t done since.