By Adam Lucas
As has been well chronicled, Malik Monk scored 47 points when Carolina and Kentucky met in Las Vegas. As has also been well chronicled, Theo Pinson did not play in that game. "Maybe if Theo was playing, Malik only has 30 points," said Kennedy Meeks. "He's one of our best defenders and he does a great job of coming in the game and giving us a lift."
"Theo gives us a presence being a long defender," said Joel Berry. "Kenny (Williams) played Malik the majority of the game, and he doesn't have as much length as Theo."
Pinson, however, didn't want to get into any discussion of being a Monk-stopper. "I don't think there was much that was going to stop him that night," Pinson said. "It's just about giving him different looks...I will try to bother him a little bit with my length and make it tough for him every time he gets the ball."
Roy Williams called Monk's display in December "as good an exhibition as I've seen in 29 years as a head coach."
Road trip: Memphis is already awash in Kentucky fans, as the Wildcats had the vast majority of the fans in town for Friday night’s session. That’s expected to increase on Sunday, as dozens of UK fans were scooping up the tickets being sold by departing Butler and UCLA fans. Rupp Arena is approximately a six-hour drive from the FedEx Forum, and with a day to mobilize and a well-earned reputation for traveling in packs, expect there will be plenty of royal blue on Sunday.
But there’s a chance for Carolina fans to make a dent in that presence. Roughly 1,000 seats for the Sunday game are still available through the box office. If you’re trying to buy in the vicinity of Tar Heel fans, the primary UNC sections were sections 106 and 107, behind the bench listed as Visitors on the TicketMaster seating chart.
Of course, the sea of blue might bring to mind another 1-2 regional final. In a rowdy pro-UK environment, Dean Smith engineered one of the signature wins of his career in Birmingham in 1995.
Rematches: Carolina had a pair of NCAA Tournament rematches against regular season foes last year, toppling ACC opponents Notre Dame and Syracuse on the way to the national title game. But rematches in NCAA play against nonconference regular season opponents are very rare. The last time it happened was also against Kentucky, as UNC beat the Wildcats in December of 2010 at the Smith Center, then lost in Newark in the regional final. The only other example in the Roy Williams era was when Carolina swept a regular season and tournament meeting with Michigan State in 2009.
There have been just a handful of other similar situations. Arizona defeated Carolina in the season opener in the 1996-97 season, then ended the Tar Heel season in the Final Four in Indianapolis. In perhaps the most famous example, Michigan beat the Tar Heels in Hawaii in December of 1992, but then Carolina won the rematch in the national title game.
Briefly: This is the ninth time Carolina will play in a regional final featuring the top two seeds. The Tar Heels are 4-4 overall in those games and 3-3 as the 1 seed. The last UNC victory in a 1-2 regional final came in Memphis, as top-seeded Carolina defeated 2 seed Oklahoma and Blake Griffin…UNC’s 22 assists against Butler were the most by Carolina in an NCAA Tournament game since posting 23 against Oklahoma in 2009. Friday night’s total was put up against a defense that was in the top 15 nationally in limiting opposing assists…The SEC is really feeling it in the postseason. Asked about tomorrow's South Carolina-Florida matchup, Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox said, "It's one guaranteed team is going to be in the Final Four just because those two are playing against each other, but I want to say it's going to be two in there." Kentucky is the only other SEC team still playing...
Very interesting comment from John Calipari on Saturday during his media availability. While being very complimentary about Dean Smith and calling him far ahead of his time, he addressed a question about recruiting numerous one-and-done players by saying, “If Dean Smith were coaching now, would he do what I do? I bet he would.”...As he did in 2009, Roy Williams served as the honorary duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel for Saturday’s 5 p.m. walking of the ducks...Good answer from Williams regarding the age and generation gap between a head coach and his players. He listed some of the 2017 realities that don't interest him (ahem, Instagram) and then said, "We have one thing in common: we're all willing to sacrifice for a common goal...and we all love to win."