In an up-tempo, offensive affair, a stellar defensive play by the No. 1 player on our Big Board, Anthony Davis ended it all. The lanky Davis swatted away John Henson's potential game-winning shot and corralled the rebound to seal the win. Davis was not very impressive in the Kentucky win, but made the biggest play of the game when it mattered most.
North Carolina looked like the younger team in the first few minutes, turning the ball over four times in their first six possessions, specifically Tyler Zeller who turned the ball over three times on UK double-teams. He was weak with the ball, lacked physicality and fight and when he maintained possession, he would simply turn and fire instead of reacting to the defense.
On the other end of the floor, Terrence Jones, the versatile lefty forward, took advantage of his skill set, taking UNC power forward John Henson on the perimeter and then drove right by him at will. Jones looked like he would come through with his second-straight impactful game and would be needed to be moved up a few spots into our top ten on our Big Board with 14 first-half points. He played with excellent overall court awareness- hitting cutters for lay-ups, but reading and reacting to the defense, instead of forcing the issue like he sometimes tends to do (see second half).
North Carolina's perimeter shooting via Harrison Barnes and P.J. Hairston not only ended UK's run, but actually gave the Tar Heels the lead that they didn't relinquish until the 15 minute mark of the second half.
The Tar Heels' perimeter shooting (6 first-half 3-pointers on 9 attempts) matched their per-game average. But more importantly, slowed don the Kentucky automatic post-double-team on Tyler Zeller, allowing him to get going in the low blocks. After starting the game with 2 points (on two free-throws) and 3 turnovers, he ended the first-half with 10 total points, 5 rebounds and no additional turnovers.
Zeller's frontcourt teammate, John Henson had an excellent game offensively, knocking down several mid-range jumpers and scoring with his back-to-the-basket as well with a nice-looking up-and-under move.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a great start to the game- demonstrating his non-stop motor that scouts love en route to securing four offensive rebounds from the weak-side, but had little to show from these additional possessions. But his hustle would set the tone for his break-out second half.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a big-time second half and is a huge reason for Kentucky winning the game in the end. While mostly known as a defensive standout, Kidd-Gilchrist showed off some aggressive ball moves like a left-to-right cross over to create separation and a spin move in the lane with a soft touch to finish around the rim several times. He has an explosive first step and can really push the ball out and attack the rim.
Kentucky's sometimes forgotten player, Doron Lamb, sparked a 17-8 run that gave the Wildcats the lead since early in the game. He had some big finishes in the lane off his penetration and in transition and hit two big 3s. He had 10 points during this run, elevating his draft stock with his ball-handling and flat-out scoring abilities.
Speaking of draft stock, Terrence Jones' did not capitalize on his stellar first-half as the sophomore and team's leading scorer failed to record a single point in the final 20 minutes. Compared to his first-half when he was aggressive driving the ball and making plays with his versatility, Jones sat on the perimeter and fired off too many 3s, none of which connected.
Anthony Davis struggled throughout most of this game like freshman do. He routinely caught the ball 20-25 feet from the basket at the top of the arc, would take a jab step or two or put the ball on the floor once, pick it up and then look to find one of his guards. He did not have anywhere near the same impact on this stage than he has had in game's past.
Another freshman who struggled is North Carolina's James McAdoo who missed several jump shots very badly and clanked his two free-throw attempts off the back of the rim. He looked weak in the post, never looked to operate down low, instead passing the ball out almost automatically.
Kendall Marshall is one of the most electric players in the country and he had a game to build on. In areas where he has struggled (i.e. knocking down jump shots), Marshall hit two 3s and pulled up off the dribble for another jumper for his 8 points. He is so unbelievably quick with the ball in his hands, looking to push the tempo at every opportunity. He has an elite court-sense, slipping the ball through the tightest of areas, also one of his weaknesses, as sometimes his own teammates were not ready for the pass, resulting in a costly turnover.
Each team had key play from their bench. North Carolina got 8 points, including two 3s, from Reggie Bullock who was questionable with a sprained wrist. P.J. Hairston came through with 3-of-4 shooting, all from behind the arc as well. For Kentucky, it was Darius Miller, the veteran of the team. He was smooth on both ends of the floor and had a critical 3-point play to pull the Wildcats within one with 8 minutes remaining.