Big Blue Nation was present and accounted for this afternoon as the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats hosted the University of North Carolina in a much-anticipated matchup. UK prevailed over the fifth-ranked Tarheels 73-72 in a game that was nail-bitingly close for almost the entire 40 minutes. UNC had the ball and a chance to win the game in the last seconds, but UK's Anthony Davis rose up and blocked a 15-footer by UNC’s John Henson with :07 on the clock, caught the ball and passed off to a teammate who ran out the clock. During a post-game interview, UK coach John Calipari said, “I made Marquis Teague stand up and hug my man in there… you hug Anthony because he saved you.”
UK's opening lineup remained the same as in the last few games: Teague, Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Doron Lamb opened the game for Kentucky, with Darius Miller first off the bench. UNC’s offense in the first half proved troublesome, as the Tarheels shot 48 percent to UK's 37 percent. Three pointers came much easier to the 'Heels, who hit six of nine from behind the arc in the first half, while Kentucky was only two of nine. "We got hung again on screens on three point shooters," Calipari said after the game. "Its driving me nuts. We worked on it, but obviously not enough.” After the 'Cats jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, the 'Heels clawed back to take a 24-20 lead with nine minutes left in the half. Then UNC's Tyler Zeller scored eight straight points to extend UNC's lead to 32-25. The Wildcats trailed 43-38 at the half, only the second time this season UK has been behind at halftime. Terrence Jones was UK's only scorer in double figures.
UK opened the second half with a 7-2 run to even the score at 45. The 'Cats were scoring layups on turnovers, but the Tarheels kept a small lead by making threes at the other end. The young Wildcats finally caught up at 56-all with 10 minutes left in the game, and from then on it was a tense battle with neither team able to extend a lead to more than five points. Lamb hit two key three pointers near the end of the game to keep UK in the lead and set up Davis' last-minute heroic rejection.
Kidd-Gilchrist led UK's scoring with 17 points while Lamb and Jones each added 14. Jones had the most blocks in the game for the 'Cats with three, with Davis blocking two — one of which was imperative. Miller came off the bench to score 12 points and Teague posted 4 assists for the game. Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller of UNC led the Tarheels with 14 points each and, ironically, John Henson led the team with 3 blocks. A big difference in this match was the number of turnovers, 13 for UNC to UK’s 9.
Calipari, who said he was pleased with his young team's effort and persistence, summed up the difference in the outcome: “If you don’t block the shot, we lose the game.”
Kentucky has the week off from games before facing Indiana in Bloomington next Saturday.