Seven or more potential NBA Lottery picks! The new #1 team in the nation versus the old #1 team! Jim Nantz put on his extra-stretchy pants! Almost everybody in college basketball was excited for this afternoon’s tilt between Kentucky and North Carolina. Would the teams bring the kind of effort and execution that the nation would expect from them?
North Carolina took a 43-38 lead at halftime thanks to incredible 3-point shooting (6-8) and great execution from junior forward John Henson, who had six points, three rebounds, and three blocks in the 1st half. Kentucky missed tons of lightly-contested jumpers and shot only 14-38 FG (36.8%) and a dismal 2-9 3FG (22.2%). Terrence Jones (5-11 FG, 3-3 FT for 14 points in first half) and Mike Kidd-Gilchrist (eight points, seven rebounds in first half) kept the Wildcats close.
Surprisingly it was John Calipari’s young squad that stepped up to the challenge by controlling the game. Kentucky forced North Carolina to play a slower-tempo game and started double-teaming senior forward Tyler Zeller (14 points, eight rebounds, and four turnovers for the game). North Carolina got blocked six times in the second half and was limited to just 10-29 FG (34.5%) and six free-throw attempts on just five Kentucky fouls.
Neither team would back down: It took a block by Anthony Davis (seven points, nine rebounds, and two blocks) on Henson (ten points, eight rebounds, and three blocks) to prevent North Carolina from going ahead in the final seconds. The future NBA Stars all contributed to the epic game: UNC’s Harrison Barnes scored 14 points with four 3-pointers in just 24 foul-limited minutes. Kendall Marshall had eight assists and three turnovers with eight points. UK’s Jones (14 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, and two steals), Marquis Teague (seven points on 3-11 FG, four assists, and one turnover) and Doron Lamb (14 points on just two 3-pointers) all shined on both offensive and defensive ends. Even Rupp Arena attendees seemingly forced a turnover when Dexter Strickland fumbled away an inbound pass during a deafening “Go Big Blue” chant.
Kentucky wins 73-72, but neither team would back down. That made for an awesome experience that will be talked about in the annals of college basketball history.