It was a fast paced, fun game that any basketball fan would enjoy watching.
Right from the tip, it was obvious that both teams wanted to run and that created an absolutely insane pace throughout the first half. It was the up and down game that fans had hoped for.
A steal and layup by Ashton Hagans gave the Cats their first points of the ballgame and from there it was a sprint for 20 minutes. Each team controlled segments of the first half.
I must give the officials credit for allowing these two teams to play instead of calling a ton of fouls. At the first media timeout which didn’t occur until 14:36 left in the half, UNC had a 13-12 lead and the game.
Both teams would each make little runs on one another and at the under 8 timeout, Kentucky had slim 26-23 lead.
After the Cats had a 30-27 lead at the under 4 timeout, Kentucky closed out the half on a 10-4 run to head into halftime with a 40-31 lead.
After the break, the Cats started the half a little shaky as UNC cut the lead down to 6 at the first media timeout.
However, Kentucky never let UNC all the way back as it was still a 6-point lead with just under 12 minutes to play.
Back to back threes by Keldon Johnson gave Kentucky a double-digit lead with just under 8 to play and the Cats held on to a 12-point lead at the media timeout.
Kentucky was a little turnover prone during the last few minutes of the game, but they made up for it with their excellent defensive play to come away with a much needed 80-72 victory over UNC.
Thoughts on the game
1. Ashton Hagans MVP
UNC’s Coby White came into this game averaging 15 points a game, so it was going to be interesting to see what Hagans could do against the stellar freshman.
Well, Hagans held him to 8 points on 3/11 shooting and forced him into 3 turnovers.
Hagans didn’t do much scoring of his own, but he did his job to perfection. He finished with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and SEVEN steals. He also went 3/4 from the free throw line.
The extra possessions that Hagans was able to get for Kentucky made the difference in the game.
I think it is safe to say that Hagans has officially taken over the PG role with his ability to lock the other team up on defense and his ability to get into the lane and find the open man.
Hagans earned MVP honors for this game and will be relied upon heavily moving foward.
2. Reid Travis is a beast
I am sure you already knew that though. However, Travis showed us once again, exactly what he can do and this time he did it on the big stage.
He finished with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. His presence in the post and on the glass is incredible for this team and he has a toughness that does nothing but help this team win games.
He is a very smart player when it comes to basketball IQ and always seems to make the right pass out of a double team. This is creating an open 3 or open dunk on the other side of the basket.
We should all be very thankful that he picked Kentucky for his final season. It is hard to imagine where this team would be without him.
3. Keldon Johnson with a huge second half
Johnson didn’t get off to the best start in this one and found himself in some foul trouble.
However, throughout the second half, he made big defensive plays down the stretch and made some huge shots. His heart, hustle, and clutch shooting, all made a major difference in this game.
He finished with 23 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. It hurt that he fouled out, and on some questionable calls at that, but he had already done his damage and the Cats were able to pull out the win.
4. PJ Washington triple-double alert
PJ didn’t get off to the best start in this one as he missed some open shots and looked a little out of sync. He kept course and ended up having a huge impact on the game. His high low game with Reid Travis was unstoppable all game. PJ and Travis have a great connection inside when one gets double teamed, they can find the other for an easy basket and it showed up big time in this one.
Washington almost came away with a triple-double as he finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 blocks. That is one tremendous stat line. PJ showed up to play for this game in Chicago.
The two headed-monster of Washington and Travis is a force inside that most teams cannot contend with.
5. What a defensive performance
I have already talked about the defensive performance of some individual players, but this team as a whole played an amazing game on the defensive end of the floor.
As a team, Kentucky had 9 blocks, 11 steals, and forced UNC into 17 turnovers. Not in the stat sheet, but the team also did a fantastic job on closing out on three-point shooters and the interior defense to alter close shots made a huge difference on the scoreboard.
Ashton Hagans changes the game with his on ball defense. His defense fuels offense and his confidence is growing every game. His 7 steals were as impressive as any shooting or scoring stat. There have been some really good defensive guards who have played at Kentucky but Ashton Hagans is joining that company and this game against North Carolina made a big statement.
6. Rebounding dominance
Coming into this game, Kentucky has been solid on the glass all year long. However, UNC entered the CBS Sports Classic as the number one rebounding team in America. The question of who would win the rebounding battle was important for both teams.
You know what the Cats did?
They dominated the Tar Heels 43-33. Rebound is a huge difference in the outcome of a game and the Cats rebounding ability is going to be huge throughout the season if they can perform at this high of a level.
Next Saturday, the Cats make a short road trip to Louisville to play the rival Cards. That game will get started at 2:00 PM on ESPN2.
Now, here’s a look at the updated season stats via UK Athletics: