Carolina, Kentucky face off again for Final Four berth

Published 12:51 am Sunday, March 26, 2017

By Teresa M. Walker

AP Sports Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Roy Williams wanted another chance at Kentucky after his North Carolina Tar Heels lost to the Wildcats in December.

John Calipari is certain someone knew he hoped not to see North Carolina in the same bracket.

Well, Williams got what he wanted, even if college basketball’s most storied programs might’ve wanted to meet at the Final Four. Instead, top-seeded North Carolina and No. 2 seed Kentucky will meet Sunday in the South Regional final that will make more history featuring teams with the most combined NCAA Tournament wins.

“That’s what we come to college basketball for, and it doesn’t get any better than this,” North Carolina junior guard Joel Berry II said Saturday. “We lost to them early in the season, so it was kind of another revenge game for us. … These are the type of games we want to be in.”

This will be the fourth time these teams have met in the tournament, all regional finals. North Carolina has a 2-1 edge so far.

Kentucky (32-5) just got its own payback for a regular season loss Friday night, beating UCLA 86-75 in a regional semifinal pairing of college basketball’s glamor teams that wound up setting the table for an even bigger showdown.

North Carolina and Kentucky can go toe-to-toe when comparing dazzling success.

The Wildcats not only have more victories than anyone else, the program built by Adolph Rupp also has the most NCAA Tournament wins with 124 and berths with 56. No coach has more than Calipari’s 26 tournament wins since he took over Kentucky.

North Carolina is second only to Kentucky with its 48 NCAA Tournament appearances and 120 wins. The Tar Heels (30-7) advanced by beating Butler 92-80 as they try to get back to the national championship game lost a year ago on the final shot of the season.

Kentucky is trying to get back to the Final Four for the fifth time in Calipari’s eight seasons.

“Every game for Kentucky is going to be big I think,” Kentucky freshman Malik Monk said. “So that’s the biggest key why we came here.”

Here are some things to know for the South final:

EXPERIENCE VS. YOUTH: Williams has three players who were on the court when Kris Jenkins knocked down that winning shot for Villanova in that national title game. Isaiah Hicks was contesting the shot, while Berry was guarding as the ball was brought up court. Justin Jackson was guarding Josh Hart. Getting another chance at a title has driven the Tar Heels since that loss. Kentucky starts a trio of freshmen, and this will be the first regional final for Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo.

“We was four seconds away from that (championship),” Hicks said. “Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you that’s all the motivation you need.”

Forward Kennedy Meeks said this is the last chance for the seniors. “For us to be in the position that we’re in right now with the Elite Eight, a chance to play against a great team, and have a chance to win the game, you couldn’t ask for more.”

STOP MONK: The freshman guard turned in his best game this season in that 103-100 win over North Carolina in December. Monk scored 47 points knocking down 18 shots, including eight 3s. His last was the game-winner. Isaiah Briscoe still watches that clip with Calipari wanting Monk to drive to the basket. “I always tell Malik, ‘What if you missed that? Just what if?’ And my heart will start beating real fast,” Briscoe said.

THEO PINSON FACTOR: The junior guard missed that December game for North Carolina, and teammates believe he is such a good defender that he might’ve held Monk to 30 points if Pinson had played. Now Pinson will get his chance.

BAM FACTOR: Adebayo has averaged a double-double during Kentucky’s 14-game winning streak, but he played only 19 minutes before fouling out of the December win over North Carolina. Said Meeks: “I’m pretty sure I fouled out before he did.”

WALKING THE DUCKS: Williams made it clear at the start of his session with reporters that he had somewhere to be, and he went off to be the honorary duckmaster escorting the ducks from the Peabody Hotel lobby up to the roof. The North Carolina coach also performed the feat in 2009 when his top-seeded Tar Heels also won the South Region in Memphis on their way to their last national title.