In just a few days, the college basketball world should be descending on Atlanta for the Final Four. The last time the Final Four was in Atlanta, Louisville defeated Michigan for the national championship…wait, what’s that? That game never happened because Rick Pitino was buying drugs and strippers for recruits? Huh, interesting. In other news, Rick Pitino was just hired to coach a college basketball team at a school that lists accountability as one of their core values. The jokes write themselves.
Anyway, back to Atlanta…had that game happened…the ending is one of the all time what-ifs, at least if you’re a Michigan fan. IF the officials don’t call that foul on Trey Burke’s clean block on Peyton Siva’s dunk attempt, it would have been a very interesting finish. Quick moment of personal bias – John Beilein deserves to call himself a national championship coach. One of the greats, and a better person. The fact he was fired in the NBA because he had the audacity to actually attempt to coach players makes us love him even more. He’s the coach a school that touts accountability should hire.
Anyway, in case you hadn’t heard, the Final Four is also canceled. So, for you hoops sickos out there that will consume any basketball related content these days, we’re here for you.
In March of 2017, the UNC Tar Heels and the Kentucky Wildcats met in the Elite 8. The theme of the 2017 season for the Heels was redemption, after losing at buzzer to Villanova in the championship game the year before. This particular edition of Carolina basketball was a classic Roy Williams lineup. Starting all juniors and seniors, it had a tough as nails point guard (Joel Berry), a smooth shooting wing (Justin Jackson), a do it all guard who we’d all prefer he didn’t actually shoot the ball (Theo Pinson) and two bigs to dominate the boards and pound your 6’8″ “center” who has never made a post move in his life into submission (Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks). With experienced guard Nate Britt to help in the backcourt, freshman Tony Bradley coming off the bench to block shots and walk on sophomore Luke Maye who could provide spot minutes without everything collapsing.
Meanwhile, Kentucky had its usual collection of NBA talent and led by choir boy John Calipari, they were a threat to win the whole thing that year. Earlier in the season, the two teams met in Vegas and played a classic which ended in a 103-100 Kentucky win, during which Malik Monk scored 47 points, including the go ahead 3 with 16 second left. We watched this game at our soon-to-be in-laws house, and the level of self-control to not yell something that caused my fiancee’s father to cancel the wedding was Hall of Fame level impressive. Needless to say, we were in much safer watching conditions for this Elite 8 matchup…a padded cell, to be exact.
In order to save your time (we’ve got all day), we’re going to pick up the live blog early in the second half. We’re coming out of the under-16 minute media timeout, with the Heels clinging to a 40-39 lead. The announcers (Nantz, Raftery, Hill) mention that the Heels haven’t made a shot in over 7 minutes. So Justin Jackson drills a 3 and gets fouled. Thanks Jim!
The next possession, Theo Pinson gets his shot blocked. Heels fans love Theo, but he’s one of the all-time “no, no, no, YES!” players in Carolina history.
14:17 – Heels get four opportunities and end up getting fouled. Reminded me of playing basketball against my brother who was a foot taller than me. I was more skilled, faster, better looking, but he had height and weight and he would just shoot till he made it and I couldn’t a rebound. Relatedly, Kennedy Meeks is #2 on the all-time fat guys for Carolina Basketball behind Sean May and just ahead of Ed Geth.
13:39 – Luke Maye with a nice finish at the basket. I’m assuming this is the last we’ll hear from him today.
12:29 – Willis, a 7-footer for UK, hits a turnaround, fadeaway 17-footer. Ok, buddy. Keep shooting that one.
11:55 – Willis throws a perfect lob to Adebayo. Ok, buddy. Please stop. Please.
11:25 – Luke Maye hits a 3 and Nantz says “Calipari told us that Luke Maye is the guy that scares him the most.” You may not believe this because he’s such an honorable guy, but that’s a complete lie from Calipari.
10:50 – De’Aaron Fox scores. This is ominous. He and Monk have been relatively quiet, and well, we have a feeling that isn’t going to keep up.
10:39 – Maye with a great post move to score and get the foul. Who is this guy? Honestly, at the moment this actually happened, Carolina fans were as surprised as anyone.
This whistle brings us to the under 12 media timeout with the Heels up 52-47 and CBS shows a graphic about Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox not scoring, which is the absolute last thing CBS needed to do. It’s like they want Kentucky to win.
10:00 – Stilman White makes an appearance. The last time we saw Stilman, he was starting at point guard for the Heels in the 2012 Elite 8 against Kansas. Don’t ask. This time, he proceeds to get an offensive rebound and dribble off his foot out of bounds. Thanks for stopping by Stilman – see you at the 2022 Elite 8!
9:30 – Bam Adebayo is taking over for UK. Heels clinging to a 2 point lead.
8:28 – Fox gets a steal and is fouled in transition. His quickness is impressive. Looking back, we can just be impressed. In the moment, we undoubtedly accused of him of all sorts of heinous crimes. Malik Monk also reenters the game at this point with Heels leading 55-54.
7:35 – Pinson takes a three…and misses. Bad. We like to call this a “no, no, no, dammit Theo” moment. You are wide open for a reason. At the other end of the court, Isaac Humphries gets an offensive rebound and is fouled. Kentucky has not lost all season in any game where Humphries scores. What a bizarre stat, but doesn’t bode well for the Heels.
7:27 – Humphries hits two free throws to give Kentucky the lead. Ugh.
6:35 – A jumper by Humphries. Guarantee that Roy didn’t tell Nantz that Humphries was the guy that really scares him on Kentucky’s roster.
6:00 – UK leads by 1, and seems to have all the momentum. Fox takes Pinson off the dribble for a basket and the Heels miss on the other end. Feels like a dangerous time for the Heels.
5:05 – Humphries drills ANOTHER jumper. This is bad. How bad? Roy actually calls a time out. That bad.
4:38 – Out of the time out, the possession ends with Theo taking a runner while moving to his left…and somehow it actually goes in. Good Theo! My man!
3:49 – Jackson makes a floater. I’d rather him take a floater than just about anyone else take any shot. So pure.
3:27 – Block by Meeks leads to run out by Pinson who gets fouled hard. Time out. Someone get Kennedy a cheeseburger for the home stretch!
Kennedy Meeks, all 700 pounds of him, could really elevate. (Spoiler alert – He would have another memorable blocked shot a couple games later against Gonzaga).
3:22 – Pinson makes both free throws and Heels lead by one. 6-0 run to answer the Isaac Humphries show.
2:41 – Luke Maye to the free throw line and drains both for a 3-point Carolina lead. I can’t overemphasize how surprising it is that Luke Maye is getting crunch time minutes in an Elite 8 game.
1:55 – Joel Berry makes a runner over Willis and Heels lead by 5. If you had asked us when Berry got to campus if he’d be an all-time great point guard for UNC, we would have laughed at you. It wasn’t always pretty, but arguably the toughest point guard of the Roy Williams history. And as the self-proclaimed President of the Raymond Felton fan club, that isn’t a statement that we take lightly. Larry Drew II is a close third.
1:45 – On cue, Berry gets a steal and Heels lead by 5.
1:02 – Monk misses widly on an open 3 and UK fouls Pinson. Shockingly, he drains both and Hees lead by 7. 7 points…one minute left. What could go wrong?
46.8 – Fox drills a 3 and UK calls time out. Not great.
Out of the timeout, Meeks is called for a 5 seconds on the inbound. How is this possible? Literally, the worst possible outcome. Ugh.
38.5 – Monk drills a 3 because of course he does. 7 point lead is down to one in a mere 20 seconds. I’m not even mad. I’m just impressed.
But, one of the tenets of Roy Williams’ basketball is to play fast, even after made baskets. It pays off as a quick inbounds followed by an long outlet pass to a streaking Justin Jackson for an easy layup pushes the lead back to 3.
Kentucky comes down and after a missed shot there’s a scrum for the ball. Bodies flying around like its a Royal Rumble and the refs blow the whistle for a jump ball. As the whistle blows, Luke Maye is sitting on the court, holding the ball in his hands with no Kentucky player within an arms reach of the ball. Guess we have different definitions of what constitutes a jump ball. Possession arrow gives the ball to Carolina.
16.9 – Heels get the ball in to Jackson who is fouled with 14.7 seconds left. If we could pick someone to takes these free throws, it would be him. And he misses the front end of the 1 and 1. Good time to remind you that we have no idea what we’re talking about.
7.2 – Monk, of course, drills an insane 3 with Jackson and Maye in his face. Pinson gets the inbounds pass and we’re going. Where are we going? What are you doing Theo? Theo? Theo!? LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Onions! With 0.3 on the clock, Luke Maye drills an 18-footer to win the game for Carolina and the Heels are headed back to the Final Four.
A few footnotes from this game:
Going into the 2017 NCAA tournament, Luke Maye had scored in double figures 3 times in 29 games. He would score in double figures 3 times in six games during the tournament and was named MVP of the South Regional. In the Final Four, he would score a total of 2 points. Combined. That was the Luke Maye we knew. And if that was the end of Luke Maye’s career, he would have been a legend forever in Chapel Hill. The fact he developed into a first team All-ACC player is a credit to him and cemented his place among Carolina faithful.
A video went viral of Maye showing up to his 8am class the next day. Idiot. Who schedules 8am classes? Rookie move.
Luke Maye’s youngest brother is a high school quarterback who just de-committed from Alabama to go to Carolina. #MackIsBack
One of the things we miss most about the NCAA tournament is listening to Bill Raftery call games. He’s an icon and his longtime partnership with Verne Lundquist was our favorite. You know who also misses that duo? Local liquor stores.
Joel Berry didn’t have a big role in this particular game, but his gutty performance in the national championship game against Gonzaga was the stuff of legends. That’s why he was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player and his jersey is in the rafters of the Smith Center.
A friend who is a college coach told me that Berry had the attitude he would be a one and done player at Carolina. He ended up staying 4 years, playing in 2 Final Fours, and is one of 6 people ever to win ACC Tournament and Final Four MVP honors. Not bad.
Did you know Nate Britt’s brother was Kris Jenkins who hit the 3 at the buzzer to beat the Heels? Because they never mentioned that once during the 2016 or 2017 tournament. Really feel like this would have been interesting information for the fans.
Tony Bradley would go pro after this season, and joins Ed Davis and Brandan Wright as UNC players who left early that well, we kind of forgot about. Whoops.
Theo Pinson, despite what we may have written about him, left UNC as an all-time fan favorite, and has bad a role for himself in the NBA. Can’t say I expected that, but all the credit in the world goes to Theo.
Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. For the Heels fans out there, 2017 probably feels like a long time ago. But, if this past season teaches us anything, it’s how special those seasons are. And if there is any solace in the 2019-20 season, it’s that the Heels won more ACC tournament games and as many NCAA tournament games as those dweebs 8 miles up 15-501 from Chapel Hill.