Luke Maye’s shot will go down in the history books, and rightfully so. But the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s stifling defense is to thank for its second straight Final Four appearance.
Kentucky guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were neutralized by smart cross-matches orchestrated by the Tar Heel coaching staff. Theo Pinson opened the game on Fox, who finished with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Justin Jackson’s length and effort slowed down Monk just enough. And Joel Berry, hobbled and thus the weakest perimeter defender, hid on Isaiah Briscoe.
Kennedy Meeks controlled the inside and picked a good night to set a career high 17 rebounds. He even added four blocks. Bam Adebayo, the Wildcats’ vaunted big man, finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field.
“Our main objective coming into the game was to play them straight up, wall when you got the ball inside and try to do our best job of boxing him out,” Meeks said after Sunday’s 75-73 win. “Because (Adebayo) is a strong guy and does a tremendous job of hitting the boards. As the big man, I think we did a tremendous job of executing that game plan.”
UNC held Kentucky to 41.5 percent field-goal shooting and one point per possession. It was an all-around great defensive performance against a dangerous and talented offensive team.