Wrap-Up: UK and Lazy Blogger Catch-Up Edition


UNC 82, Kentucky 77

Box Score

brice johnson unc kentucky dunk

Been kinda slack on the wrap-ups lately. So even though it’s Wednesday and this game happened on Saturday AND the Heels are playing Texas tonight, let’s talk Kentucky. In what was UNC’s third victory over a ranked team, the Heels showed what has become a trademark of their victories this year – grit. Notice that I said trademark of their victories, not the season on the whole. But the fact remains that in UNC’s wins over Lousiville, Michigan State and Kentucky, the outcome was not certain for the majority of the contests. It would have been easy to allow Kentucky to swell a big lead after they were tossing ally oops in the first few minutes, but instead the young Heels ground it out to actually take a lead going into halftime.

It’s got to be frustrating to be a Kentucky fan about now. There were moments Saturday — notably the lobs to Randle and Cauley-Stein — where they made some amazing plays look effortless. But the best part about this UNC team is that even when they got schooled, they never put their heads down.

The “white out” was in effect for the first time ever, and even on TV, the crowd was audibly more into it than usual. The home court advantage the Heels enjoyed is normally only reserved for when Duke visits Chapel Hill, but it had to have made a difference. My personal theory? It’s just easy to root for this team. It’s full of young guys that you’re watching grow up game by game. Expectations are relatively low — for UNC’s standards — so the big wins are just gravy on gravy on gravy. What’s not to love? Paige is maturing into an elite point guard, Brice Johnson is becoming an offensive spark and Kennedy Meeks is learning to bang with the big boys. JMM has his big games and is actually becoming a much smarter player than he gets credit for, while Nate Britt is getting tossed into the fire. It’s always easy to love a title contender, but of the non-contenders, this is one of the most enjoyable vintages in recent memory. PROVE ME WRONG!

Takeaways

  • JMM was being aggressive. We know this comes and goes with James Michael, but maybe, just maybe, he’s turned a corner? He scored a majority of his points from the free throw line after drawing countless fouls. It was a great strategy and nice to see he didn’t shy away from it after getting blocked a few times. 
  • Kennedy Meeks did not have a big game. In UNC’s two other big wins, Meeks had been a standout. His production might not have been up to par (especially in the points department) in this one, but Meeks still provided some value (4 rebs, 1 ast, 2 blks, 1 pt) and it was a great sign that UNC could pull out the win without a key player making a significant contribution.
  • Paige is a gamer. Marcus paige scored 21 points in the second half and hit 10-10 free throws during the game. Clutch on clutch on clutch on clutch on clutch.
  • Isaiah Hicks is disappearing. Hicks only played 2 minutes against the Wildcats. Something isn’t clicking for him just yet — at least clicking enough to crack the backlog in the frontcourt. Maybe he’ll get some increased minutes  over winter break.
  • Is J.P. Tokoto for real? Yeah, he is. Real in the sense that he can get you double digit points, is a great rebounder for a guard and can even notch some blocks. He’s the closest thing UNC has had to Danny Green since Danny Green.

Superlatives

Player of the Game: Tempted to say McAdoo  or Paige (23 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, 3 stl) here but I’m going with the Smith Center crowd. It’s not often you can hear the seniors in the front rows roar on TV but they made themselves known. Well done, Rams Club.

Stat Stuffer: James Michael McAdoo (20 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk) McAdoo actually led the team in assists and only had one turnover. If you had said that last year, I think I would have fainted.

Play of the Game: You’ve seen the ally oop from Paige to Brice Johnson all week on SportsCenter, but the actual play of the game was when JMM ran down a full-court inbounds pass, touching the ball and getting fouled in the waning moments of the game. If he lets that ball go, Kentucky gets the ball under UNC’s basket in the final minute with the game very tight. Instead Mac was shooting two. Roy Williams looked like he wanted to suffocate JMM with a bro-hug afterward. It was a sight to see.