MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Under the category “PF” on the official box score totals — “personal fouls,”not “power forward” — Kentucky finished Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game with 19 committed and North Carolina with 18. That seems even. A closer exam, though, shows three individual UK players with “4” in their columns. And that left coach John Calipari less than pleased.
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my whole team,” Calipari said at the start of his postgame news conference. “Amazing that we had a chance.”
The numbers that will vex Kentucky through the offseason will start with those in the final score of Sunday’s NCAA South Region final: North Carolina 75, Kentucky 73. That result put the Tar Heels in the Final Four for the second consecutive season.
But there are others slightly below the surface that played a part in the outcome. After scoring 39 points in 36 minutes of Friday night’s victory over UCLA, freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox played only eightminutes of the first half against North Carolina because he picked up two quick personal fouls. Guard Malik Monk and center Bam Adebayo also were forced to the bench because of first-half fouls.
Kentucky matched North Carolina’s field-goal output (27) and hit more 3-pointers (7-3) but attempted only 19 free throws to the Tar Heels’ 26.
GAME CENTER: Full stats from Kentucky-North Carolina
Fox’s early fouls were his own fault. He tried to jump in front of Carolina backup point guard Stilman White as he was moving laterally with the ball. Kentucky supporters argued he had established position, but it was a high-risk/low-reward play. If he’d gotten the call, it would have been a simple dead-ball turnover. And he did not get the call. With that one already on the board, he did not spend his crucial second foul wisely, either.
There were some curiosities, though, particularly with the first-half officiating. On three occasions, official John Higgins observed action and did not blow his whistle to call a foul on Kentucky until the outcome of the play turned in UK's favor.
The most notable of these occurred with Carolina attacking its goal just before the four-minute mark. UNC point guard Joel Berry was unable to control a poor pass, and Wildcats forward Derek Willis reached to the floor attempting to grab the ball. Berry lifted his hand trying to gather the ball and struck Willis’ wrist. The ball deflected high in the air and was retrieved by UK center Isaac Humphries. Higgins’ whistle blew right then.
“There was a lot of stuff that went on, and our kids fought through it,” Calipari said. “I told them at halftime, it is what it is. You’ve got to beat who’s out there, and let’s go, and don’t worry about it.
“But don’t take away from North Carolina. I mean, you think of the plays they made, down five, to get back. And then to get up, and then us come back and tie the game, and then they make one at the buzzer? Come on. It was a terrific game. I just wish we could have played a first half with a full roster.”