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356 days after Kris Jenkins, North Carolina now has its own version of ‘The Shot’

Almost a full year after Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater, North Carolina found sweet redemption against Kentucky.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs North Carolina Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Three hundred and fifty-six days ago, North Carolina was on the wrong side of history.

Senior point guard Marcus Paige, one of the most popular Tar Heels in recent memory, hit a double-clutch three-pointer to tie the score with 4.7 seconds left in the 2016 national championship game. It seemed destined to be Paige’s Mona Lisa, the crowning achievement of a college career that ended the way he’d always dreamed. A shot that would be remembered forever.

The shot will be remembered forever, just not in the way anyone imagined at that moment. You all know why.

Three hundred and fifty-six days later, the Tar Heels still have a chance to get that stain out of their Carolina Blue championship shirt, this time on the right side of history.

Malik Monk may not have been at Kentucky for four years, but he still managed to land the role of Paige. The freshman star did what he’s been doing all season long for the Wildcats at the end of games: making every play necessary to put his team in a position to win. The last of those instances came Sunday evening. After a missed free throw by Justin Jackson failed to push North Carolina’s lead to four, Monk came off a screen and buried an off-balance three-pointer over two UNC defenders to tie the game at 73 with only 7.2 seconds to go.

This was supposed to be Monk’s Mona Lisa, the shot that would make him a one-and-done legend in Lexington on the same level as Anthony Davis. Freshman sensations aren’t forgotten in Kentucky, but freshman sensations who win national titles are remembered in a way that makes it seem like they were on campus much longer than eight months. This was Monk’s moment to secure a shot at that level of basketball immortality.

The shot will be remembered forever, just not in the way anyone imagined at that moment. You all know why.

Jay Wright had called a timeout to set up Kris Jenkins’ game-winner in the title game a year earlier. That’s never been Roy Williams’ style. Instead, Williams elected to trust his players and bank on them being able to take advantage of Kentucky’s inability to collect itself and get set in the aftermath of Monk’s heroics. Theo Pinson did just that, successfully navigating his way down the court, penetrating inside the three-point line and creating space for Luke Maye to get a clean look at the shot that, at least temporarily, restored order to the basketball universe in Chapel Hill.

“I’m the guy that wanted him to come here as a walk-on,” Williams said of Maye after the game. “So how dumb am I? He made some big-time plays today, some big-time plays two days ago. Theo made a heck of a drive. I didn’t want to call timeout with him in the open court. He found Luke. Luke knocked it in.”

When you get the behind-the-scenes tale of how a masterpiece came to fruition, it’s always made to sound so easy. Too easy. Like anyone could have done it. Perhaps that’s the reason we still, even now, hear criticism of Williams from time-to-time as a guy who “just rolls the ball out there” and watches his guys play.

The reality is that with Sunday’s win, Roy Williams is headed to his ninth Final Four. Only John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (12), and Dean Smith (11) have been to the tournament’s final weekend more times. To head back there a year after losing the top two players from the team that was victimized by “The Shot” has to make trip No. 9 as special as any of them for Williams.

Of course “The Shot” doesn’t mean what it meant 24 hours ago. At least not to North Carolina fans. “The Shot” now is cause for celebration, it’s Luke Maye playing the role of main attraction, with Malik Monk serving as the warm-up-act who deserved better.

Most importantly, it means the two points that put North Carolina two wins away from the championship the Tar Heels thought was going to be their’s a year ago. Two wins away from truly restoring order to the Tar Heel universe.