Blue Bowl: Kentucky Downs North Carolina in Classic Tilt

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After an early season loaded with various tournaments and invitationals, the Kentucky Wildcats came into Saturday’s battle with the North Carolina Tar Heels at Rupp Arena looking to make a big statement on the national stage. Behind a 17 point and 11 rebound effort from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Cats managed to squeak by the Tar Heels 73-72, running John Calipari’s record to 38-0 at home as Kentucky’s headmaster.

North Carolina had a chance to win the contest late as they had the ball with 13 seconds left, but when John Henson went to put up a contested jumper in the corner with five seconds left, Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis seemingly came out of nowhere to block the shot, and when the Heels seemed to forget that there was still time left on the clock, the Wildcats came away with the emotional win.

The game represented the second huge test that the Tar Heels have had this week, as they downed the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Facing two top-10 teams in the span of four days would be a rough assignment for any squad, but with their star player Harrison Barnes still fighting through an injury, the Tar Heels made a valiant effort to take both contests and prove why they had been ranked as the top team in the country before the season.

Barnes himself had a nice game, showing some great shooting touch in draining four three pointers, but he was limited to only 24 minutes due to foul trouble in the first half. He did struggle from within the arc, only going 1-of-7. Tyler Zeller also had a good game for the Heels, pouring in 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds. PJ Hairston also had a very nice game coming off the bench, picking up 11 points in only 14 minutes on the floor, and he showed flashes of the brilliance that was expected of him when he was recruited to play in Chapel Hill.

It was also impressive to see North Carolina rebound from a sluggish start, as they turned the ball over four times in seven possessions early in the game. The momentum of the game swung frequently in this game, with Kentucky taking it early and North Carolina grabbing it back. In the end, it was Kentucky’s ability to force bad shots and turnovers that made the difference for the Wildcats.

On the Kentucky side of the ledger, there really aren’t words to describe how special a player that Kidd-Gilchrist is going to be for this club. At a school that has seen freshman sensations like John Wall and Brandon Knight come to campus since Calipari took over as coach after a stint at Memphis, Gilchrist has the blend of speed and shooting ability that has the potential to make him a number one overall draft pick next year in the NBA. Those talents were on full display on both ends of the floor in this one, as he controlled the glass and the paint.

Another player who showed some tremendous potential was Terrence Jones, a sophomore known for his defensive abilities. He was given the arduous task of guarding John Henson in this contest, and he did so admirably, holding him to a 4-of-11 shooting performance. Jones also had three blocks in the game, and for good measure scored 14 points and added seven rebounds. Four of those were on the offensive glass, and his ability to keep possessions alive for the Wildcats really helped them to win this game.

Other than Texas, the Tar Heels have a pretty easy schedule until the beginning of ACC play on January 7th against Boston College. They also will not play a road game for a month and a half, with a tilt in Tallahassee against Florida State representing the next time they’ll leave Chapel Hill. For the Wildcats, they will take a mini-road trip to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers, and their next big test will be their annual tilt with Louisville at Rupp Arena.

 

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