BY JOHNNY PITTMAN
It was with 12:32 left in the first half, that there was a bluesy ballad beginning to bellow through the basement of the FedEx Forum. DeAaron Fox found his second foul and with it the blue notes began to stack.
Kentucky looked to their ‘Memphis Slim’ crew – Mulder, Hawkins, Bam, Isaiah, Humphries – to maintain. The first half felt like a Ali ‘rope-a-dope’, with UNC attempting and landing haymakers while UK put up their hands and tried to counter punch. The lead would fluctuate between double and single digits with the Cats finishing in a flurry and only being down five at the half.
Similar to all good ballads, this song packed some backbone. The Cats clawed back, and through Isaac Humphries, punched the Heels in the mouth and found some respite ( 7 point lead) in the final quarter of the game.
Ragged and bruised the Kittens tried to slug it out, but the Heels had been through this type of fight before – with Kentucky – and relied on what had got them there to weather the flurry, bobbing and weaving, while UK stood flat-footed and watched this fight slip away to Beale Street.
All of the ingredients were there – even an overhead roundhouse delivered by Malik Monk with :07.2 wasn’t enough to stop the reeling. Luke Maye delivered the finisher with :01.2 to put the Heels up by two.
Sure there was :00.3 left in this epic title bout, but how many times has the contender delivered a knockout at the bell?
It didn’t happen then and it didn’t happen today.
Memphis was bittersweet. And like most blues measures, after an experience like this fight, it’s a good time to write a song.