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Kentucky outlasts UNC; ‘Game of the Year’ lives up to hype

Dec 3, 2011, 3:52 PM EST

source: Getty Images

I want more.

Seriously, let’s run that back. I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels that way. We can do it right now. I don’t think any of the fans in attendance would mind. Its still early in the afternoon, Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg have nothing else to do today. As we speak, CBS is airing a preview of “A Game of Honor”. I’m pretty sure they can push that back.

More than anyone, I think No. 5 North Carolina wants a second shot against No. 1 Kentucky after losing to the Wildcats 73-72 at Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon. After Marquis Teague missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 21 seconds left, UNC took possession of the ball with a chance to steal a win in Rupp. The Heels dumped the ball into Tyler Zeller, who promptly had it knocked out of his hands. The ball happened to bounce right to a seemingly wide-open John Henson, but Henson — who has probably never had a jump shot blocked in his career — had a 12-footer blocked by Anthony Davis, who came out of nowhere to make a game-saving defensive play.

But where the real bitterness for UNC isn’t a result of the block, its the result of what happened after the block.

The shot left Henson’s hand with about six seconds left on the clock, but instead of fouling Davis, who came down with the loose ball, Henson backed away. As Henson’s teammates ran at the UK freshman, he threw the ball to Marquis Teague, who dribbled the final few ticks away.

If Henson has the awareness to foul Davis, he sends a freshman big man that is a 53% free throw shooter to the line with enough time to go to the length of the court for the tie or the win.

This had been the most highly-anticipated matchup of the college basketball season, and there isn’t even a close second. The two most talented teams in the country. The two favorites to win the national title. A half-dozen lottery picks and a dozen potential pros on the court. John Calipari and Roy Williams.

It had everything you could ask for, and that’s why every college hoops fan — not just Big Blue Nation or the folks on Tobacco Road — had been salivating over this game ever since Coach Cal had reeled in yet another loaded recruiting class and Ol’ Roy got confirmation that his trio of talented front court players would be back for another year in Chapel Hill.

And up until that final possession, this game had completely lived up to the hype.

UNC used some hot-shooting from beyond the arc — they were 6-9 from long range in the half — to build up a lead and could have taken complete control in the first half had they been able to keep Kentucky off of the offensive glass. The Wildcats grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the first half and had 16 second-chance points.

While the first half brought us end-to-end action, like two feather-weight fighters catching each other with jab after jab, the second half was a heavyweight brawl, as the UNC and Kentucky traded haymakers.

Every time the Wildcats would put together a spurt to get back into the game, UNC had the answer. Kentucky scored seven of the first nine points in the second half, tying the game at 45, but back-to-back threes from Kendall Marshall pushed the lead back to six. Michael Gilchrist — who had game-highs of 17 points and 11 boards — scored seven straight points to give Kentucky a 52-51 lead, their first lead since the score was 11-9. But the Heels again answered, with a deep PJ Hairston three and a short jumper from Marshall.

It wasn’t until the eight minute mark that Kentucky finally took control. Down 60-56, Darius Miller used a three-point play to spark a 13-4 run that was capped by back-to-back threes from Doron Lamb, putting UK up 69-64 with 3:49 left. Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock both hit tough, clutch threes down the stretch to set up the underwhelming finish.

If the anti-climatic ending did anything, it created a national desire to see a rematch.

And if the NCAA Tournament wasn’t exciting enough already, we will now all be able to root for the same thing come March: running back the Game of the Century in New Orleans.

What We Learned

Kentucky:

- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the truth, and this game was his coming out party. He’s a terrific athlete and relentless attacking the rim, whether its off the bounce or on the offensive glass. He defends and he can create off the dribble. He is going to be such a weapon for UK this year.

- Just as important was the play of Darius Miller, who finished with 12 points in 23 minutes off the bench. He made a number of big plays in the second half.

- Terrence Jones still doesn’t understand quite how to use his physical tools. With his combination of perimeter ability and physical strength, he’s an impossible matchup at the college level. He took advantage of that early in the game, as he was aggressive getting to the rim. But he spent the second half floating around the perimeter. That has to change for him to live up to his potential.

- Anthony Davis needs to get stronger. But he’s as young and as raw as any prospect we’ve seen this decade. Three plays stood out to me: the lob he caught midway through the second half against Zeller, the rebound he grabbed — stretch-armstrong style — with four minutes left and, of course, the block to seal the win.

- I get on Marquis Teague as much as anyone does, but he deserves some credit here. While he struggled shooting the ball (3-11 from the floor for just seven points), he only turned the ball over once while adding four assists and controlling the pace down the stretch. The reason UK won this game was that they turned the final eight minutes into a half-court game. That credit goes to Teague.

North Carolina:

- The Heels are still getting beat up inside. The biggest issue I have is that John Henson and Tyler Zeller go to the defensive glass like they do the offensive glass. They aren’t able to use their body to box out on the defensive glass.

- UNC was better in the half court tonight, especially on the offensive end of the floor, but they still run into trouble when teams are able to execute their sets offensively. They simply have too many defensive question marks. Looking at you, Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes.

- The one question mark that has been answered is UNC’s perimeter shooting. PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock knocked down some big threes in this game.

- The question that a lot of people were asking during the game was whether Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a better NBA prospect. I think, without question, the answer is Kidd-Gilchrist, simply because his all-around game is so much better. But anyone that says that Barnes isn’t a terrific prospect in his own right is out of their mind. The kid is a terrific shooter that thrives in the clutch. He may not be the second-coming of Kevin Durant — hell, he may not ever be an all-star in the NBA — but he is going to score a lot of points for a very long time at the next level.

- UNC now has two losses in their last three games. Losing to UNLV was an issue, but don’t read too much into this loss. Kentucky is absurdly talented and was playing in an unreal environment at Rupp. This team will be right there at the end of the season.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

  1. 2ndnshort - Dec 3, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Great job. BALLIN IS A HABIT IS MONEY!!!!!! GO ROB GO!!!!!!!!

    -Izzy

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