Elites meet in South final between Kentucky, North Carolina
Saturday, March 25 at 2:24 AM (EDT)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- After avenging a December loss to UCLA on Friday night in the South Regional semifinals at FedEx Forum, Kentucky tries to keep North Carolina from evening the score with a Final Four berth on the line.
Two of the sport's bluebloods meet Sunday in a rematch of perhaps the game of the regular season, a 103-100 Wildcats win on Dec. 17 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Freshman guard Malik Monk wowed the sellout crowd of more than 19,000 with 47 points on 28 shots, canning eight 3-pointers.
Can Monk possibly improve on that epic effort?
"They will play me even tighter," he said, "so (De'Aaron) Fox will have his way. Or anyone else will have their way."
Fox sure had his way in Kentucky's 86-75 elimination of UCLA on Friday night, pumping in a career-high 39 points on just 20 shots as he continually attacked the bucket. Monk perked up after a slow start to add 21 points, setting up a matchup of the region's top two seeds.
North Carolina (30-7) disposed of Butler 92-80 in Friday night's opener, leading by double figures for the final 24 minutes and getting a combined 50 points from Joel Berry and Justin Jackson.
Berry appeared to be over an ankle injury that hampered him in the Tar Heels' previous game against Arkansas, tallying 26 points, while the smooth Jackson worked the Bulldogs over for 24 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Jackson had a great matchup early, going against the 6-3 Kethan Savage, who tried hard but simply wasn't able to keep Jackson from getting whatever shot he wanted.
"I saw they had a smaller defender on me and my teammates were finding me," Jackson said. "They were setting screens and they were just kind of late off those screens. I just kind of felt like I was moving freely, and my teammates were finding me. It was just up to me to step up and knock in the shots."
Jackson also enjoyed a huge game against Kentucky, firing in 34 points on 17 shots from the field. Berry added 23 points and three other teammates hit for double figures as North Carolina shot 53.3 percent from the field while committing only nine turnovers.
But it wasn't nearly enough to outdo Monk and Fox. Lost in Monk's display of shotmaking was Fox's 24 points and 10 assists, which helped the Wildcats notch the most entertaining of their 31 wins this season.
"We didn't play very well on the defensive end and Malik lit us up for 47," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said of that game.
North Carolina has exerted itself with more consistency without the ball during the NCAA Tournament, holding Arkansas scoreless down the stretch in a 72-65 second-round win and limiting Butler to 43 percent shooting from the floor on Friday night while controlling the boards 38-26.
Kentucky also won in part because of defense Friday night, holding UCLA 15 points below its season average and forcing 13 turnovers from a team that had only nine in its first two NCAA Tournament games.
"The key to that was basically try to get a hand up and don't break down defensively," guard Dominique Hawkins said.