The Tar Heels apparently have their mojo back when it comes to beating the Wildcats.’
The two winningest programs in college basketball history met in Chapel Hill yesterday with North Carolina emerging victorious 75-63, for a third straight victory over Kentucky.
UNC was 16-6 all-time against UK when the two storied schools turned their series into an annual affair back in 2000-01, but when the Wildcats were victorious in the first four games, it didn’t seem like such a brilliant idea anymore.
However, the Heels have pushed back since, tacking on yesterday’s win to last year’s 83-79 triumph in Lexington to make it three straight for the boys in powder blue. UNC’s 19-10 overall record against Kentucky makes it one of just two schools to have played the Wildcats at least 10 times and have a winning record against them. The other? St. Louis.
Yesterday’s win should help the sixth-ranked Tar Heels move into the Top Five, coming on the heels of the Heels’ huge 98-89 win over top-ranked Ohio State on Wednesday.
The unranked Wildcats, meanwhile, heading in hot after beating Charleston 77-61 on Tuesday, have now dropped all three games against ranked opponents this season.
- UNC’s freshmen class is simply mind-blowing, and the kids did their thing again yesterday with Wayne Ellington scoring 17 and Brandan Wright potting 16. Ellington excels at shooting off the dribble. The athletic Wright’s career is off to an amazing start with double-digit scoring in all seven games.
- Senior Reyshawn Terry, one of four returning starters, has stuggled so far this year, heading in averaging just over eight points per game. But he put on a clinic from downtown, nailing four treys as part of a 16-point effort yesterday. His back-to-back long bombs highlighted a game-changing run for Carolina. Terry, who poured in a career-high 25 against the Wildcats last year, pitched in yesterday with nine boards and three assists.
- By establishing that outside game (the Heels were 9-for-21 from beyond the arc), UNC was able to break down the Wildcat zone on the inside. That was a big key to this victory.
- This UNC team is now deep enough that coach Williams can sit down the entire five-man starting outfit at once, replacing it with the second unit, a tactic he employed at one point yesterday.
- Tyler Hansbrough came up big against OSU with 21 points (8-for-16 shooting) and a career-best 14 rebounds, but he was frustrated all afternoon by the Wildcats, managing just seven points and three boards on 2-of-10 shooting. A first-team All-American last year, Hansbrough’s strength allows him to carve out position for himself in the low post. He came in averaging almost 21 PPG, so we’ll cut him some slack for yesterday’s lacklustre showing, which featured just three points with a minute and a half to go in the first half.
- UK Junior Randolph Morris, coming off a nice 17 point-performance on Tuesday, showed a tremendous touch (10-of-11 for 21 points) and great hustle. He had his way in the post yesterday. This kid is going places. By returning to school this year, Morris will likely improve his draft placing, and could go in the top 25 if he enters the 2007 NBA draft.
- Freshmen have accounted for half of the Heels’ scoring with under four minutes to go in the first half. They wind up with 44 of 75 points on the day. How does this school manage to rebuild and stay competitive at the same time? It’s all about the recruiting.
- Everyone on this very deep team is playing and scoring. There are nine players averaging over 11 MPG and 10 who are scoring over 3.5 PPG.
- Turnovers are a big part of the problem for the Wildcats; they’ve committed 11 with under two minutes to play in the first half. UNC does a much better job of protecting the rock, coughing up just nine all day.
- UK started the second half strong, draining its first three shots to pull within 36-33. But after a timeout, the Heels responded with an 11-2 run to put the game out of reach. Coach Williams was unimpressed with how his team started the second half, especially on one particular loose ball: “The basketball was rolling on the floor and we’re tiptoeing through the freaking tulips reaching over to get the ball.” Ah yes, nothing like tiptoeing through some freaking tulips on a Saturday afternoon. I think I’ll head down to the local nursery after I finish writing this article.
- After that big run early in the second half, the closest UK got was nine points.
- Seth Davis thinks Hansbrough is on his way to National Player of the Year honours.
- Joe Crawford drained 16 for Kentucky and Bobby Perry came through with 12. Perry’s performance was nice to see. The Wildcats are counting on the senior forward to be a more consistent scorer this season, but so far, he’s been anything but.
- Crawford, a junior guard with good size at 6’5″, also did a great job on the glass with eight boards, helping the Wildcats win the battle of the boards 42-36. It wasn’t enough, however, to stop UK from dipping to 4-3. Besides the turnover problem, poor outside shooting (UK sunk just one of its first 12 and finished 3-for-15) proved to be the Cats’ undoing.
- Kentucky is usually a very fine 3-point shooting team, averaging 36 per cent from beyond the arc heading in. But an 0-for-9 first-half showing killed UK. In fact, take away Morris’ 5-for-5 first half and the rest of the team shot 6-for-23 before halftime.
- Sophomore Bobby Fraser was the Heels’ starting PG last season (one of just three PGs to start their entire freshman season in the school’s history), but this year he’s coming off the bench in favour of the far more explosive Ty Lawson. Lawson was a USA Today first-team All-American last year after leading Oak Hill Academy to a 42-1 mark. Yes, Lawson still has a learning curve, but he’s fast and strong and makes a huge difference to the UNC attack.
- The tide has turned in this series, but one thing Kentucky excels at is stopping super soph Hansbrough. The Wildcats worked hard to crowd the middle, keep the ball out of his hands and seal him off when he did get a touch, and the strategy worked. Just three times in his career has he failed to get double-digit points, and two of those games are against Kentucky. The seven Hansbrough scored yesterday were a season low and last year he managed just six against the Wildcats. What’s up with that?
- UNC never trailed in this game, continuing its fine non-conference play with the win. The club is now 6-1 overall, including 3-0 at the Dean Smith Center.
- Kentucky is stalled at 1,930 wins in its history, while the Heels continue to get closer year by year, now up to 1,889.