The impressive run of beating ranked teams continues for North Carolina, coming away with the 82-77 win over Kentucky, getting a big first half from J.P. Tokoto while Marcus Paige took things from there to have a massive second half, proving once again that he gets better as the occasion gets bigger.
The Tar Heels have now picked up wins against the #1 (Michigan State), a #3 (Louisville) and a #11 (Kentucky), making their losses to Belmont and UAB seem less and less important as we go along. There are still quite a lot of fluidity problems, not to mention free throw shooting problems (only 26-of-45 from the line), but their defense and their smarts on offense, especially when compared with the raw and looking like they’re badly coached Kentucky team, are taking them in the right direction.
Tokoto finished with 15 points on 7-of-10 from the field, but he did more than just stats. He got in the way of passes Kentucky were lazily moving around, and made smart passes during transition and fast breaks that didn’t necessarily make the stat list. North Carolina had 24 points in transition, tied for most in one of their games this season. Entering the contest, Kentucky, who are a limited team but can no doubt run the floor and hustle, allowed only 8.7 transition points per game.
One thing Kentucky players struggled with was defending the paint, and getting used to the new foul rules. North Carolina kept attacking the basket (taking only 7 three point shots) and that got them to the line 45 times off of 30 Kentucky fouls. The Wildcats didn’t do too badly themselves, reaching the line 43 times, but they took bad shots during the game and turned the ball over 17 times.
And there was Marcus Paige with yet another big day, especially in the second half. He finished with 23 points, 21 of them coming in the second half. He was 10-of-10 from the line while his teammates shot only 45.7%, and was at his most effective when getting into the fast break, setting up James Michael McAdoo (20 points) for an alley-oop that seemed to take all the remaining spirit out of the Kentucky players. McAdoo reached the line 19 times, and was simply unstoppable for the Wildcats anytime he got to the basket.
The freshman project at Kentucky has now lost its third game this season, with Calipari still looking for answers about how good this team can be. There are the moment when they run the floor and play above everyone else, but when it comes to half court offense and trying to out think opponents, it seems that both the head coach and his players are failing. Julius Randle had a weak night with only 11 points, shooting only 3-of-9 from the field. The Harrison brothers combined to score 37 points, but as a team Kentucky shot only 40.7% from the field.
North Carolina? They are a lot closer to finding out about how good they really are, and it seems like the wins over ranked opponents are a lot more telling than what we’ve seen from them against the minnows of college basketball.