NORTH CAROLINA 75, KENTUCKY 73
Dec. 4, 2010
Dean Smith Center; Chapel Hill, N.C.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Doron Lamb did just about everything he could to push Kentucky to a victory in its first hostile road game, but the guard couldn't make up for the Cats' missing post presence.
UK led for much of the second half but couldn't guard North Carolina 7-footer Tyler Zeller or stop him from getting to the free throw line, losing 75-73 to the Tar Heels at the Dean Smith Center.
The Cats (5-2) managed just two field goals over the final 9:56, including a Josh Harrellson rebound and putback with 52.8 seconds left that gave them their final lead at 69-68. Seconds later Harrellson committed his fifth foul and Zeller hit a pair of free throws to give the Tar Heels the lead for good.
Zeller and fellow forward John Henson dominated the Cats' interior players, controlling the glass and frustrating UK freshman Terrence Jones. Jones, the Cats' leading scorer, had just nine points on 3-of-17 shooting and fouled out with 3:04 remaining on a reach in 20 feet from the basket. Zeller and Henson combined for 40 points, 23 rebounds and eight blocks.
"I'm surprised we were in the game at the end. For us to have a chance to win at the end I was happy. We've got a lot of work to do."
"I'm ecstatic with the win. It was an ugly win but I'll take it. We won it at the free throw line. We didn't make a lot of shots but we made free throws." -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
"You can't really say anything about it. Some calls you don't really agree with but you have to learn how to play through it no matter how shaky the call is." -- UK freshman guard Brandon Knight, on the Cats having four players foul out.
When Doron Lamb spoke to reporters before Kentucky traveled to Chapel Hill he claimed the game against North Carolina would qualify as the biggest he had played in to this point of his life. If you believe in omens it stands as very good news that Lamb was the best player on the floor for the Cats and one of the few who didn't look a little off kilter because of the environment. Lamb came off the bench to score a team-high 24 points and added three assists without a turnover for the Cats. Lamb connected on 7-of-8 from the free throw line and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, cementing his status as the Cats' best shooter at this point.
Kentucky began to assert its will midway through the second half, opening up a 57-51 lead and forcing North Carolina coach Roy Williams to call a timeout to stop the bleeding with 11:41 remaining in the game. The Tar Heels got a quick bucket and UK came down the floor with a chance to match but Terrence Jones missed a short flick in the lane and Josh Harrellson missed a putback lay-in, leading to Carolina's Justin Watts rebounding a teammates' miss and drawing a three-point play on the follow to draw within a point. Lamb seemed to stem the tide with a three but the Heels' got another three-point play on the ensuing possession and the Cats were never able to shake them after that.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Freshmen are going to have bad days, but Terrence Jones has to hope this will be his worst in a Kentucky uniform. The 6-foot-8 forward had been dominant in the Cats' first six games but he looked frustrated from the start against North Carolina's length in the frontcourt. Jones missed a quick three-pointer on the first possession of the game - one of four misses in the first four minutes - and never seemed to recover, driving into contested shots and failing to pass out of double teams. Jones finished with just nine points on 3-of-17 shooting, but will certainly learn from this experience. He's too talented not to.
GLASS FULL OR EMPTY?
The postgame scene at the Dean Dome was bizarre in that depending on who was asking a question or which coach was talking you couldn't really tell who had won the game. Several North Carolina reporters shaped questions wondering how North Carolina was even in the game despite the Cats hitting nine three-pointers to Carolina's 1-of-11 effort from deep, while those covering UK had the same questions about the Cats having a chance to win despite severe foul trouble and being dominated in the paint. The point? Your state of mind will probably determine how you move forward from this game.
14 - In a rugged game that saw four Kentucky players foul out North Carolina took full advantage and won the game at the free throw line in the final 4:19. Although they trailed 65-61 the Heels scored their final 14 points at the charity stripe, making 14-of-16 down the stretch to escape with a victory. UK coach John Calipari said he specifically instructed his team not to foul Carolina's Tyler Zeller, but the 7-footer made all 10 of his attempts during that time on his way to a 27-point, 12-rebound, five-block afternoon.
Prior to the season, there was much speculation that Kentucky might be a Final Four contender with Enes Kanter, but only a Sweet 16 level team if the NCAA ruled against him. As UK sets to begin a second stab at eligibility for the post player with what it deemed Friday as new information, evidence on the court Saturday began to bear out that belief as the Cats fell 75-73 to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. With no Kanter and foul-prone Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas providing little impact in the paint, the Tar Heels had a feast in the middle. UK had no answer Saturday. Question is, will they have an answer going forward?
Say this for Kentucky, it handled the first hostile environment it has been in this season with notable aplomb. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to return to Lexington with a quality victory. The Cats' issues with depth and post presence were exposed by a team with legitimate big men for the second time in as many games against those type squads, which makes you wonder if they can find a solution without Enes Kanter.
Kentucky (5-2) continues its run of tradition-rich game with a mid-week trip to Louisville to face Notre Dame at 9:30 p.m. in the SEC/Big East Invitational at Freedom Hall.
Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here. You can also follow "@TCPMAY" on Twitter for live updates.