Off the cuff: Luke Maye is deservedly getting most of the attention following UNC's dramatic win over Kentucky. But, if it weren't for Joel Berry playing through pain, the Heels would be done.
Early in the game, Berry rolled his left ankle after Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox slapped his leg as he was driving - something that wasn't called a foul. He went to the bench and then the lockerroom to be attended to by the trainer.
He was already hampered by a right ankle sprain that he re-injured in practice - something that was new information following the win.
While missing all five of his three attempts - UNC coach Roy Williams said he was having trouble pushing off his foot - Berry scored 11 points, mostly due to driving to the basket. He also had three assists and two steals while leading the Tar Heels during his 33 minutes on the court.
It was truly a team effort as Kennedy Meeks hauled in a career-high 17 points. Theo Pinson, who had a rough patch where he turned the ball over three times in a short period of time, came through with six points down the stretch, including four straight free throws.
Justin Jackson led the team with 19 points but he missed four of his five three-point attempts and missed the front end of a one-and-one that allowed Kentucky to tie it before Maye's heroics.
During Berry's injury time, senior Stilman White came in for five minutes and he drove to the hoop for a basket that gave Carolina a five-point cushion in the first half.
Carolina led by as many as nine (in the first half) and trailed by as many as five (in the second half).
With seven minutes left in the game, the Tar Heels had led all but 18 seconds of game action.
Kentucky's Isaac Humphries, who had never scored in double figures, scored eight points in three minutes - finishing with 12 - to help the Wildcats to that 64-59 lead.
UNC coach Roy Williams said he reminded the team of what they had done by coming back to beat Arkansas earlier in the tournament. He said, "You've shown you can do this."
The Tar Heels responded with a 12-0 run, just like they had done against the Razorbacks.
Still, it took the big shot by Maye at the end. "It's a great feeling that my teammates and my coach put me in that situation," he said.
Every once in a while I like to mention forgotten plays earlier in games - particularly bad calls by officials - that could make a difference. Yes, there are bad calls both ways, and yes, the calls usual even out. Kentucky fans - and the coach - felt the Wildcats got the short end of the stick from officials.
Coach John Calipari made a crack in his post-game press conference that it was amazing his team had a chance at the end after they'd just about fouled out his team.
There were touch fouls both ways. But those are opinion calls.
There was a goal tend against Kentucky that was controversial. While the ball wasn't going to go in, it still was partially within the rim. Technically, I suppose it was a correct call but most officials, seeing that it was going to fall off the rim, probably would not have called it.
There were several calls that were just wrong.
With 8:38 left in the first half, and neither TV nor radio mentioned this but you can go back on your DVR to see, Berry knocked the ball off Edrice Adebayo's leg out of bounds but the official gave it back to the Wildcats.
Frustratingly, just 14 seconds later, Kennedy Meeks blocked a shot and it seemed to go out of bounds off Adebayo but the same official once again gave it back to the Wildcats.
(By the way, Adebayo was born in Washington, NC and is a native of Pinetown, NC.)
In the last minute of the game, the official called a five-second inbounds violation on Meeks who was running the baseline trying to get it in. Use your stopwatch, it was four seconds. Still, you have timeouts to burn so Meeks should have called a timeout before relying on an official to wave his hand in time correctly.
If the Tar Heels play with poise, cut down on the turnovers and hit a better percentage of free throws, they won't have to worry about officials' calls in the Final Four.
Carolina really won that game over a four-minute span in the first half. Sure, it got up to a 20-point lead and down to 10. But when the Tar Heels scored 14 points from about the 14:50 mark to the 10:50 mark of the first half, it took the game for a one-point game to a 15-point game and it stayed five points of that the rest of the way.
Leading just 13-12, Isaiah Hicks drove the baseline for a dunk. Then Justin Jackson hit a floater. Joel Berry followed with a three from the left sidelines and then he hit a pair of free throws. Luke Maye followed with UNC's fourth three of the game and Berry finished off the run by driving aggressively to the hoop for two. UNC 27, Butler 12. That, in essence was the game.
Had the Heels not drained eight threes in the first half though, it could have been a different story. The Tar Heels shot well throughout the game but their free throw shooting was below par (just 21 of 33).
Carolina certainly has the motivation to win the national championship. The Heels next game is against Kentucky, a team that beat UNC 103-100 in a game where Malik Monk went wild with 47 points. Not only does Carolina want revenge for that one but the players are still thinking about the way they lost the title game last year.
Q. Is there any extra motivation this weekend knowing that last year you were one shot away from winning the National Title?
JOEL BERRY II: Yeah, I think there's a little motivation, and we always think about last year regardless of the game. We got to where we wanted to get, we just didn't finish it. But I mean, it's always on our mind, but just regardless of that, we go into each and every game just thinking about that game, and we can't look too far ahead. We've got to play the game that we're about to play. And so it's a little motivation there, but we've got to be able to play Sunday, to be able to get to where we want to get.
Yes, Carolina should have put Arkansas away when the Heels led 30-13. But all the teams left in the tournament are good and have pride so it wasn't surprising that it was close down the stretch.
Some of the elements to a UNC defeat were there - namely poor shooting, turnovers and a hobbled point guard. But Carolina was tough over the last four minutes of the game - a lock-down defense, an aggressive offense and good foul shooting.
You need to be able to survive games like that. I've mentioned this before but when Carolina won the NCAA title in 1982, the Tar Heels beat James Madison by two points. And this Arkansas team is better than that James Madison team. And this Carolina team doesn't have two of the best players in the history of the game - Jordan and Worthy.
Arkansas made a comeback by hitting six straight shots at the end of the first half. Twice Carolina fouled a three-point shooter and it led to seven Arkansas points.
But the Razorbacks missed their last seven shots of the game while Carolina hit six of its last seven shots.
The Heels had scored 17 points off turnovers in the first half but then Arkansas turned the tables in the second half. UNC finished with 17 turnovers while Arkansas finished with 19.
During one stretch, Carolina failed to hit a field goal over seven minutes. If the Tar Heels do that again, they'll likely not survive as the teams just get better and better.
If the Heels had lost, you'd probably be hearing more about a play that seemed to turn the tide. It's a common refrain that officials don't win or lose games, players do.
But with the Tar Heels ahead 44-37, the ball went out of balls off an Arkansas player. There was no Tar Heel around to knock it out but the officials gave the ball to Arkansas.
Within a couple of seconds, Arkansas hit a three-pointer to draw within four points. The run, which might have been stopped had the ball been awarded to Carolina, continued until the Razorbacks led 50-46. They didn't trail again until Isaiah Hicks hit the back end of a one-and-one situation with 1:44 to play.
Maye enters UNC lore with game winner North Carolina's Luke Maye went long stretches without playing much this season. But the Tar Heels needed the sophomore to keep the season going. (3/26)
Maye swished a 19-footer in the last second to give the Heels a 75-73 victory over Kentucky to advance to the Final Four for the second year in a row.
Maye, the South Region's Most Outstanding Player, hit the game winner after Kentucky had hit three three-pointers in the last 47 seconds to tie the game at 73.
Malik Monk, who lit up the Heels for 47 in the regular season, hit a three from the top of the key with seven seconds left. The Heels got the ball in quickly and Theo Pinson raced down the court. Pinson penetrated the lane and then dropped it back to Maye who banged it in.
"I just wanted to shoot it like I do everyday in practice," Maye said on the court before the Tar Heels clipped down the nets.
Kennedy Meeks, who had a career-high 17 rebounds, said he wasn't surprised by Maye's shot and tournament performance. "He shoots it like that all the time in practice," he said. "Luke stepped up big time to help us get this win."
Teammate Justin Jackson, who led the Heels with 19 points, said that Maye's success shows that "with hard work you can be a great player."
As against Arkansas earlier in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina was down in the late stages and went on a run.
64-59 with five minutes to go after leading most of the game, Carolina went on a 12-0 run to take a 71-64 lead with less than a minute to go.
Pinson started the scoring with a runner to cut the deficit to 64-61. Following a defensive stop, after Kentucky had scored on 12 straight possessions to take the five-point lead, Jackson hit a 12 footer to cut it to 64-63 with 3:46 left.
A Meeks block on the other end led to a Pinson run out. He was fouled and after a TV timeout, he hit two free throws to give Carolina the lead at 65-64 with 3:22 to go.
After yet another defensive stop, Maye was fouled and he hit both ends of a one-and-one situation to put the Heels up 67-64 with 2:41 left.
Kentucky missed a three and Maye got the rebound. The Heels ran the shot clock down and Joel Berry, playing on two bad ankles, drove and scored high off the backboard to put Carolina up 69-64 with 1:45 to go.
A Monk miss led to a Kentucky foul on Pinson, who got the rebound. Pinson hit both ends of a one-and-one to give the Heels a commanding 71-64 lead with 53.5 seconds left.
That's when Kentucky went on the three-point barrage outscoring the Heels 9-2 to tie it before Maye hit the winner.
With less than a second left, Kentucky threw the ball all the way down the court out of bounds. UNC threw the ball in and the game ended and the celebration began.
Maye scored a career-high 17 after scoring a career-high 16 in the previous game.
The Tar Heels outshot Kentucky, 46 to 42 percent, and outrebounded the Wildcats, 44 to 34.
Despite the threes at the end, Carolina held De'Aaron Fox to five of 14 from the floor and held Monk to just four of 10.
Carolina, now 31-7, plays Oregon Saturday night for the right to play for the national title.
(UNC Sports Information photo by J.D. Lyon Jr./@tarheel_photo)
Berry's back, Maye shines as Heels advance North Carolina's Joel Berry, hampered by a bad ankle, returned to form and sub Luke Maye had his best game as the Tar Heels stopped Bulter 92-80 to advance to the Elite Eight. (3/24)
Berry hit from outside and drove to the basket to lead all scorers with 26 points. His seven points during a 14-0 run early in the game helped open it up. Carolina led just 13-12 when the Heels went on the run.
A Maye three gave the Tar Heels their biggest lead of the first half at 30-14 midway through the half.
Carolina hit eight of its nine threes in the first half to take a commanding 52-36 lead at the break.
Maye hit three of them and finished the game with a career high 16 points and 12 rebounds. "I just wanted to get to an open spot and my teammates found me," Maye said.
In the second half, the Heels got the lead as high as 20 several times - the first being a Berry drive by layup that made it 63-43 with 14:38 to go.
A 13-4 Butler run midway through the half cut the lead to 11. It got as close as 10 at 76-66 with six minutes to go as the Heels had troubles from the foul line (at one point going just six of 14 in the second half).
A pair of free throws by Nate Britt, in a one-and-one situation, seemed to right the ship and the game never seemed to be in doubt again.
"It's a game of runs," said Justin Jackson, who scored 24. "We tried to stay focused and stay poised, as coach likes to say.
Though Jackson and Berry scored more than Maye, they both gave him a lot of credit for the win. Jackson said he was huge and the Heels need him to keep it up. Berry said Maye gives the Heels an advantage to have a big guy who can step back for a three or open up the spacing to allow the guards to drive.
Coach Roy Williams didn't seem surprised by Maye's effort. "What Luke did today, we see a lot at practice," he said. "He gave us a big lift."
Coach Williams said Maye is a good shooter and rebounder with a lot of savvy. "But he's going to be successful because of what he has in his brain and his heart," he said.
The other big guys didn't contribute as much offensively but Kennedy meeks did haul in 11 rebounds. Meanwhile Isaiah Hicks fouled out with nine points in 17 minutes of play.
The Tar Heels shot 54.4 percent for
game compared to 43.5 for the Bulldogs. Plus, the Heels outrebounded Butler 38-26.
Carolina, now 30-7, play the winner of UCLA-Kentucky on Sunday afternoon.
Heels need 12-0 late run to survive Arkansas North Carolina, despite leading by 17 in the first half, needed a 12-0 run at the end of the game to defeat Arkansas 72-65 to advance to the Sweet 16. (3/19)
The Tar Heels trailed 65-60 with more than three minutes left and it particularly looked bad for Carolina after four straight turnovers. Then Joel Berry missed a three and Isaiah Hicks' shot was blocked.
But Carolina locked down defensively. "We did a good job of forcing them into bad shots late," Berry said.
While UNC hit six of its last seven shots, Arkansas missed all of its last seven shots.
During the game-ending run, Berry and Hicks each hit both ends of one-and-one free throw situations. Hicks' second free throw gave the Heels the lead a 66-65 with 1:44 to play.
After Carolina forced a errant long three at the end of the shot clock, Kennedy Meeks came up with perhaps the biggest play of the game. A driving Berry threw up a wild shot at the end of the shot clock. UNC's bench thought Berry was fouled while Arkansas' bench thought Berry charged. Nothing was called and the shot bounded high of the backboard when Meeks tipped the rebound in with his left hand to give the Heels a 68-65 lead with just 45 seconds to play.
Meeks said Berry showed great desire and determination to get the ball up. "I happened to be in the right position," he said.
Arkansas missed a pair of free throws and then missed a three before Hicks was fouled. He hit both free throws to wrap it up at 70-65 with 10 seconds left. After forcing a turnover, Justin Jackson went in for a dunk to finish off the scoring.
"Sometimes you need a game like that," Berry said. "We know we can win a game when we're down by five with three minutes to go."
And the Tar Heels did it with their two top scorers - Berry and Jackson - hitting just seven of their 27 shots. Plus Carolina turned the ball over 17 times.
"We were lucky but we were unlucky there for a while," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "I liked how tough and focused we were... I love the way we competed."
Carolina flew out to a commanding 30-13 lead. The Heels were getting the ball to the hoop to go along with three threes.
But a 15-2 Arkansas run, led by Daryl Macon off the bench, pulled the Razorbacks to within four at 32-28.
Carolina still led 38-33 at the half and the Heels extended the lead to nine at the start of the second half.
But Arkansas' defense rattled Carolina and the Heels helped by taking and missing four straight three-point shots. In no time, Arkansas led 50-46. While it was tied twice after that, Carolina didn't take the lead again until that Hicks free throw with 1:44 left.
Meeks led the Tar Heels with 16 points and 11 rebounds while Jackson scored 15 points and stole the ball five times.
The Tar Heels, now 29-7, play Butler in a Sweet 16 game Friday.
Heel Prints reviewed each UNC game
As a student sports editor years ago, prior to the season, Clifton Barnes predicted a national championship for the Tar Heels and indeed they won. In fact he wrote his lede paragraph for the national championship game almost a year early. He regrets that he didn't keep a journal after each game. He kept a journal after each game of the 2007-2008 season and you can reach them here. At the request of readers, he has kept up his journal of each game ever since. He also has written about UNC baseball and wrote an analysis after each 2008 UNC football game.
Editor's Note: HeelPrints chronicled the UNC basketball, baseball and football seasons for 2008 and 2009. Since the vast majority of comments I get about the site relate to basketball and since this isn't a paying job for me, I decided to limit my coverage and analysis to basketball. Baseball and football will remain archived and if I have comments or opinions I want to make on those or any other sports at UNC, I will make them here on the front page and then archive them in the corresponding sports section. Thanks for all the positive comments I have received about the site. Should I get sponsorship in the future, I will reconsider adding baseball and football again. Ironically, my favorite sports to watch in person are baseball and football. But my first connections to UNC came from watching Dean Smith's basketball teams on TV or listening to them on the radio in the days before all the games were televised. It should come as no surprise that people pay more attention to the basketball coverage. Thanks for your interest in this site.