Last season left a nasty taste in the mouth of the Tar Heels. One so bitter that when you bring up their 14-19 overall record and next to last place finish in the ACC, guys shake their head at the memory of its awful experience. This isn’t last year’s team. There are a lot of new faces who don’t know what it feels like to lose game after game in devastating fashion. But the stench remains. Every time an opposing squad goes on a game-tying or game-leading run fans roll their eyes in fear that their Heels will lay down in defeat like last season. But this isn’t last year’s Tar Heels. Team leaders Garrison Brooks, Andrew Platek, Leaky Black and Armando Bacot remember how they felt loss after disappointing loss and they won’t let it happen again.
Saturday, a desperate Kentucky squad (talented, but struggling to find wins) saw their matchup against UNC as an opportunity to get their ship back on track. They started the game strong – taking an 11 point lead with 13:06 remaining in the 1st. The Heels then went on a 21-8 run – regaining a two-point advantage with a little under four minutes remaining in the half. The Wildcats ended the period on a 11-5 run, going to halftime with a 38-34 lead. I can only imagine the amount of “freakin” and “dang-gum-its” PG rated Roy Williams said during the break.
The Heels sent a message in the second. They played bully ball – aggressively attacking the paint and getting the Wildcats in foul trouble. UNC used a Kerwin Walton led 12-1 run with 9:42 remaining in the game to get separation from Kentucky, taking a 54-49 advantage. The same thing that happened in the 1st half before the Wildcats closed the period on a run.
This is where the the Tar Heels showed us who they are. Last year an opposing team would get off the mat and punch UNC in the mouth – causing a stunned Heels squad to retreat. That wasn’t happening Saturday. Kentucky didn’t even land a punch. The Heels had a counter every time the Wildcats tried to gather themselves for a run.
“We went down early and they thought they would punk us, but this isn’t last year,” Bacot said after the 75-63 win. “We’re not going for none of that sh*t this year. We’re not going to be punked this year. We not going to let teams come in thinking they can push us around.”
That’s it. That’s the message. That’s what fuels this UNC team and there’s no better motivation.
UNC Scoring Leader: Armando Bacot 14
UNC Rebound Leader: Day’Ron Sharpe 11
UNC Assist Leader: Caleb Love 6
- UNC is 5-2 and begins conference play on Tuesday, 12/22, at NC State.
- Carolina has won two in a row.
- The Tar Heels are 3-1 this season at neutral sites.
- UNC trailed by double figures in the first half (19-8 Kentucky lead) for the fifth time in seven games this season. UNC has won three of those five (UNLV, NC Central and Kentucky).
- UNC is 2-2 this year when it trails at the half.
- Tar Heels out-scored Kentucky, 41-25, in the second half.
- For the season, UNC has been out-scored by 16 points in the first half and has out-scored the opposition by 69 points in the second half.
- Trailing 48-42 with 13:15 to play, UNC did not allow a field goal by Kentucky fo the next 9:11. In that time, UNC went from trailing by six to leading by six.
- Carolina was out-rebounded for the first time this season (42-38).
- In the first half, Kentucky out-scored UNC, 14-5, on second-chance points. The second half, UNC had a 13-2 advantage in second-chance scoring.
- Carolina had 14 assists and 11 turnovers. It was the third time in seven games this season UNC had more assists than turnovers (Charleston, at Iowa and Kentucky).
- Carolina shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, the first time this year UNC has shot 50 percent in the first half.
- Carolina is 5-2 in the CBS Sports Classic (1-2 vs. Kentucky).
- Roy Williams is 890-255 overall (472-154 at UNC).
- Armando Bacot led UNC with 14 points. It was the second game in a row Bacot led the Tar Heels in scoring.
- Caleb Love tied his season high with six assists. His assist-error ratio of 6:2 was his second best of the season and best since going 4:1 in the opener vs. Charleston.
- Andrew Platek’s three-pointer with 6:09 to play gave Carolina a 59-54 lead.
- Platek has made five threes in the last three games.
- Kerwin Walton scored 10 of his season-high 13 points in the second half. Walton and Bacot combined for 21 second-half points (Kentucky scored 25 in the second half).
- Walton was 3 for 3 from deep. His three 3FGs equal the most by a Tar Heel this season (RJ Davis made three vs.UNLV).
- Day’Ron Sharpe had a game-high and season-high 11 rebounds. It was the second time he has grabbed double-figure rebounds and first time he led UNC in rebounds.
- Carolina leads, 25-16.
- Roy Williams is 10-10 vs. Kentucky, including 9-7 as head coach of the Tar Heels.
- Carolina has won 13 of 19 at neutral sites.
- The 12-point margin was Carolina’s largest over UK since a 19-point win on 11/18/2008.
- At NC State, Tuesday, December 22, 9 p.m.