It’s hard to be anything other than happy when the Kentucky Wildcats beat the North Carolina Tar Heels in men’s basketball, no matter if it’s a 1-point margin courtesy of an Anthony Davis block a la 2011, or by a strong 14-point margin courtesy of an offensive explosion as happened today. Any victory over fellow bluebloods like the Tar Heels is a cause for celebration in the Big Blue Nation.
I think North Carolina deserves a lot of credit for the way they played today. The score may look lopsided, but they Tar Heels made it very interesting in the second half and seemingly never went away. Marcus Paige almost single-handedly turned the contest back into a ball game, but there isn’t any real question about who the better team was today. Still, thanks to the Tar Heels for the fine effort. We’ll be seeing you guys again soon enough.
For Kentucky, a bunch of cold shooting went by the boards today, as the Wildcats exploded for 7 made threes on 15 attempts, by far their best performance of the season from the outside. Not only that, but the Wildcats performed well from the line and shot well from inside the arc. Only in the areas of turnovers and rebounding did Kentucky fall short of expectations.
North Carolina box
Kentucky’s offense was really much better today from front to back. It was smoother, it was efficient, it was exactly what we want from this team.
Kentucky took the negative of Alex Poythress’ loss to injury and turned it into a motivator.
You may be tempted to complain about the defense, but remember — North Carolina is very talented, and the loss of Alex was always going to hit the defense hardest.
The defensive intensity could’ve been better, but with the rotations a bit of a mess the last few games, I think we can make allowances.
Turnovers, AARGHH! Also offensive rebounding needs to be better, but this UNC team is a very good offensive rebounding team.
Marcus Paige’s explosion in the second half is the only reason UK did not hold UNC to under 1 point/possession.
Transition defense is still a problem, and UNC exploited it well today.
Notice that UNC shot 12 more shots than Kentucky. I scratched my head about that for a second, but the reason is because they put us on the line so much, and those don’t count as shot attempts. It’s pretty rare to see the losing team get that many more shots than the winners.
Once again, Willie Cauley-Stein was dominant, and gets the game ball. He had 15 points on 6-9 shooting, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 2 blocks and 4 steals. He also had zero personal fouls. That’s a stat sheet stuffed like a Christmas turkey. He was unbelievably disruptive on defense.
Aaron Harrison had a particularly great game, making 3-7 from the arc and scoring 14 pionts. It was great to see Aaron break out from deep.
Andrew Harrison gets an honorable mention for the game ball. He had 5 assists and 3 turnovers, not that great, but he should’ve had about 11 assists if you count all the great passes that led to fouls. He also made 9-10 from the line, and that is about as efficient as you can get.
Tyler Ulis had a particularly noteworthy game as well with 8 assists and 3 turnovers. He’s still having trouble with traps, and they’re going to have to work on that the next two weeks. Louisville will not fail to notice.
Devin Booker may have the sweetest stroke since Kyle Wiltjer, and today, they went in so clean I’m not sure he touched the rim. He made all three of his 3-point shots. Booker had some bad turnovers and questionable decisions befitting his tender years.
Trey Lyles was great. He did his damage from midrange, missed only 2 shots, and played well in excess of his years.
Karl-Anthony Towns was about the only guy who was not himself today. He had only 2 points on a pair of made free throws and attempted no shots. He got only 2 rebounds, but did have a block.
Marcus Lee was totally excellent today. He made all of his shots, intimidated several on defense, was very active, did not turn the ball over at all and had 2 assists.
Dakari Johnson was good again today. He had five rebounds, made 5-6 from the line and had 2 blocks and 3 steals.
Tying it all up
This was just a terrific performance from Kentucky. If the Wildcats can generate offense in the 1.2 points/possession range all season against teams like Kansas and North Carolina, nobody is going to come remotely close to actually beating them. I still don’t think that’s going to happen, and I still think the Wildcats will suffer a loss or two. But it’s hard to see where they are going to come from after this game.
Once Kentucky is able to integrate the change of an absent Poythress, I think they can get their defense back on track. It really wasn’t bad today, although UNC had more success both inside and out than most teams have this year. A lot of that is about the skill that North Carolina brings to the table — defense can only do so much against a team that’s nearly as big and skilled as you are, and we saw a little of that against Texas.
But overall, I’m thrilled with this victory. UK does have some things that need work, like getting the ball up and scoring against the trap — that really gave us problems when UNC went to it, probably a little too late for it to affect the game. Still, Louisville will trap like crazy, and Kentucky has to be well prepared for that.
I also love the way we attacked the rim today, particularly the Harrisons. They are the reason that so many possessions ended in fouls and free throws, and that is something that doesn’t really show up in the stats. It’s easy to sing Ulis’ praises, and we should, but Andrew particularly had a major negative effect on the Tar Heels with his penetration and passing.
Next up — the UCLA Bruins next Saturday.