The North Carolina Tar Heels now are a win away from getting back to a national championship game they narrowly lost a year ago.
And this time, they made the last shot.
Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels’ second consecutive trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday’s showdown of college basketball’s elite in the South Regional final in Memphis.
The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest Regional champion Oregon on Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona, in a national semifinal.
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“We get to keep playing,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
North Carolina took control with 12 consecutive points over the final five minutes, a run similar to what it used a week ago to beat Arkansas. The Tar Heels finished this game with a 16-9 run. Kentucky freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick three-pointers, the last two by Monk. Monk’s second shot with 7.2 seconds left and defenders in his face tied it up at 73.
Theo Pinson brought the ball down and passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the three-point line.
“I’m the guy that wanted him to come as a walk-on, so how dumb am I?” Williams said. “He [made] some big-time plays today, big-time plays two days ago.”
Maye finished with 17 points off the bench for North Carolina. Justin Jackson scored 19 points and Joel Berry II added 11.
The second-seeded Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis’ inbounds pass went out of bounds on the far end.
Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second year in a row. Willis and sophomore Isaac Humphries left the court with towels over their heads, and Fox was the last to leave.
The Wildcats had hoped their talented freshmen would carry them. Bam Adebayo and Fox each had 13 points, and Monk finished with 12.
Never before had the NCAA Tournament pitted powerhouse programs that have so dominated March. This South final featured Kentucky with the most tournament wins all-time with 124 and North Carolina just behind with 120.
OREGON STUNS KANSAS IN THE MIDWEST FINAL
Tyler Dorsey poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and Oregon ended Kansas’ romp through the NCAA Tournament with a 74-60 victory late Saturday night in the Midwest Regional final in Kansas City, Missouri, that gave the Ducks their first Final Four trip in nearly 80 years.
Dylan Ennis added 12 points for the third-seeded Ducks (33-5), who took the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed again, giving coach Dana Altman his first trip to the national semifinals. Oregon will face North Carolina on Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona.
Player of the Year front-runner Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the top-seeded Jayhawks (31-5), who had rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points. But their dream season ended with a thud just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right.
Star freshman Josh Jackson was mired in early foul trouble. Sharpshooting guard Devonte Graham never got on track. And the swagger that the Big 12 champs showed in humiliating Purdue in the Sweet 16 became a distant memory on a night that belonged to the Pac-12 champions.