Wrap-up: Heels on wrong end of classic game

UNC 72, UK 73
It took us a while to get here. There was mourning. Anger. Resentment.
But we’ve finally made it to acceptance. It was no easy journey. I’m sure we don’t have to tell you that.
Saturday’s match-up did live up to all its hype. While Ohio State has a case to be in the conversation (especially after dismantling Duke), UNC and UK are the best two teams in the nation and they showed why. One NBA scout in attendance even said it was the best college game he’s ever seen. I assume that means from a scouting standpoint, but it stills says a lot.
Even in the loss, you had to love this game. There’s a good chance that, much like last year, this won’t be the only showdown between these two big guns.
  • Senior-year Tyler Zeller has not been playing like junior-year Tyler Zeller. When these teams met in last year’s NCAA tournament, Z exploded for 21 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. Saturday he had 14 pts and 4 TOs. That TO number could have been higher too but he was bailed out several times with UNC players picking up loose balls. Besides a stretch near the end of the first half, Zeller looked as if he had regressed 3 seasons, back to his freshman-year self that broke his hand against this same UK team.
  • Speaking of Zeller’s struggles yesterday, that last play must have been one of the worst executions ever. UNC went to Zeller in the paint, who bobbled the ball and was immediately double teamed. This, of course, had only happened about ten times previously in the game. It didn”t make sense to us why the Heels continued to run this while Harrison Barnes, with a hot hand, sat open on the perimeter. I’m normally all for feeding the ball down low for a closer look, especially with someone like Zeller, whom I usually put full faith in. But with yesterday’s circumstances, this is one of those times I question what Roy was thinking going to the big man. It was a miracle the ball even found its way to Henson for a shot attempt. I won’t start on Henson’s attempted fadeaway with a notorious shot-blocker in front of him, UNC’s lack of awareness to foul when UK came down with the ball, or UK’s picking up the ball and literally running toward half-court with no traveling call before time expired. Below is a photo of UK freshman Marquis Teague after he already picked up the ball after eluding several UNC players and going into celebration mode with time still visible on the clock.
  • We don’t mean to pick on Zeller, but considering how he couldn’t seem to catch a ball all afternoon, it’s kind of hard not too. For the record, John Henson’s 10 pts and 8 rebs on 4-11 shooting did not instill any more confidence in the UNC front court. Neither did James McAdoo’s two air balls and general aloofness. It was ironic that in the biggest game of the year, UNCs seemingly biggest strength, it’s big men, were non-existent why it’s biggest weakness, 3-point shooting, was firing on all cylinders.
  • Let’s talk about that some more. UNC shot the lights out from three. The fearless P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock combined to go 5-9 off the bench from beyond the arc, Kendall Marshall has two nice additions after being left alone and Harrison Barnes went 4-5. This is what makes that last play hurt so much more. Open shooters on the perimeter that have been hitting buckets don’t even get a sniff. 11-19 from three is a thing of beauty.
  • Two areas where UNC excels yet completely sucked at yesterday: points in the paint and transition points. UNC had 14 PIP to UK’s 36. UNC also added only four fast break points. Four.
  • We’ve decided Zeller and Henson did not play great. Barnes, Hairston and Bullock shot well from three, but that’s it. Kendall hit some nice open shots and added eight assists, which, has come to be expected. What about the hero of the Wisconsin game Dexter Strickland? He remains to be one of the most inconsistent and frustrating players UNC has seen. One great — amazing to behold, even — play followed by the dumbest decision or lack of focus you’ve witnessed since you began watching your older brother’s Junior Hornets games. Example: losing that ball out of bounds near the UNC bench on the second half off an inbounds pass. He had light pressure on him. Nothing that should have caused that. He missed a dunk on a break. But then he makes a stellar defensive play or drive to the basket and it makes you forget the other indiscretions. Until he repeats himself in some inexcusable manner. It’s a viscous cycle.
  • UNC did not play to its potential. And that’s not saying that UK can’t play better, but that looked about as well as they’re capable of performing. They shot a good percentage. They played great interior defense. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed up in a big way. Terrence Jones had a great (half of a) game. Doron Lamb continues to be the luckiest player in college basketball. UNC is a better basketball team than what it showed as seven point underdogs in a hostile environment against a top-tier team. For playing at home and supposedly being “so” good, UK could have been better. Bias, I know. And that’s not saying that UK isn’t one of the best teams in the country. But UNC could/should have won that game. It was more their loss than UK’s win. I guess what I’m trying to say is, we found out that Kentucky is not better than UNC. Not in any discernible way that would lead us to think we couldn’t beat them if (read: when) we play them in March or April.
  • This by no means is an excuse for the UNC loss, and I just stated that UNC should have won this game on their own merits, but the officiating could have been more consistent, on both ends. As a UNC fan, I enjoy a fast pace with as few as breaks as possible, but considering the clock ran in the second half from the under-16 media timeout until under the 8 minute mark in such a contested game that included many looks into the post – on both sides – and lots of physicality, I find it very hard to believe there wasn’t one instance that warranted a stoppage in play. And considering we went through eight minutes of game time without a clock stoppage, then get ticky-tack fouls like Marshall’s brush on Teague with under three to go, it’s quite frustrating. I already touched on the strange ending of the game that included UK running the ball out while time was still on the clock, but does anyone else remember Kyle Wiltjer’s only basket? After taking two LOOONG steps toward the lane, Wiltjer went up, bobbled the ball – maybe it was tipped by UNC, maybe not, either way Wiltjer never lost possession – came back down with it to then put it back up for a bucket. That is either an up and down or double-dribble. Doron Lamb bobbled the ball on his way to the basket, then regained it with two hands after taking three steps and tossed in the layup. That’s no legal. Again, I know UNC probably got away with some calls too, but it has to be consistent — especially in a highly contested game that comes down to one point.
  • One of the Heels’ best offensive sources in the game, Harrison Barnes, didn’t play the final six minutes of the first half. So it’s encouraging that the final score was only a one-point difference considering he missed several minutes in which he surely would have been involved.
  • Another encouraging thing to watch was UNC’s response to Kentucky’s runs. Any time UK had a burst to challenge UNC’s lead, the Heels would respond with a momentum-killing bucket. For being in such a hostile environment, they really responded well. It’s funny because at times Carolina did seem sort of rattled, but their performance on the court didn’t seem to correlate. Can’t wait to play this team on a neutral court. It has to happen.
  • Player(s) of the game: Barnes, Hairston and Bullock – For their combined 9-13 shooting from long range. It was the only offense UNC ever had going.
  • Stat-stuffer: Marshall – Henson could have also gotten this for a decent showing but he was a bit too inefficient. Marshall’s block and steal to go with 8 pts and 8 asts get it this time.
  • Harping award: To The Rafters – Because we’re back on the referees. John Calipari was literally on the court two feet away from UNC and UK players on several occasions and nothing was done about it. C’mon son.