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Updated: Saturday, December 7, 2002 8:23 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(18) Kentucky 98, (14) North Carolina 81
KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Kentucky Wildcats
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NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
North Carolina Tar Heels
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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (Ticker) -- The experience of Kentucky won out over the youth of North Carolina in a battle between the two winningest teams in college basketball history.

Gerald Fitch scored a career-high 25 points and seniors Marquis Estill and Keith Bogans added 20 apiece to lead 18th-ranked Kentucky to a 98-81 victory over the 14th-ranked Tar Heels.

Fitch, a junior guard, and Estill scored all of Kentucky's points in a decisive 18-2 run in the first four four minutes of the second half.

"We came out and showed a lot of courage, a lot of heart, a lot of toughness in the second half," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who now has three straight wins over North Carolina by an average margin of 18 points.

North Carolina (5-2) held a 43-40 halftime advantage when freshman Rashad McCants scored 17 of his 22 points.

But Kentucky (4-1) took control in the second half. Estill used his 6-9 size to hit a jumper in the lane and a jump hook in the first minute to give Kentucky the lead.

"We went down low more in the second half and I had opportunities inside," said Estill.

North Carolina reclaimed the lead on a layup by freshman Raymond Felton with 18:32 left, but Kentucky scored the next 14 points, including 10 by Fitch on a pair of 3-pointers and two jumpers. Estill added four more points on a layup and a tip-in as Kentucky opened a 58-45 lead with 16 minutes remaining.

"We had fundamental breakdowns early in the half and we can't allow that," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "We're a young team and all that, but we have to play 40 minutes against a team like Kentucky."

Two straight 3-pointers by Jackie Manuel pulled North Carolina within 63-55 with 13:32 left.

But Bogans hit a pair of 3-pointers from the left wing and Estill added six points in a 15-5 run which increased the Wildcats' lead to 78-60 with 9:36 remaining.

"Keith has matured a lot for us," Smith said. "He showed some All-American heart and toughness."

North Carolina pulled no closer than 13 the rest of the way.

Kentucky shot a sizzling 67 percent from the field in the second half and 60 percent for the game.

"Beating North Carolina in North Carolina is huge for us," said Fitch, who was 7-of-10 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line.

Estill converted 9-of-13 shots, most of them either layups or short jumpers.

"They have some things we don't have and one of them is talented big guys who can score," Doherty said.

This Kentucky team is built around Bogans, Estill, Fitch and Erik Daniels, who added nine off the bench.

North Carolina relies on an outstanding freshman class headed by McCants, Felton and Sean May. McCants hit 9-of-14 shots before hurting his left ankle in the final minute, Felton had 18 points and seven assists and May collected 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Tar Heels won the Preseason NIT, but have since suffered a 92-65 loss at Illinois and another double-digit defeat to the Wildcats.

"It's better to win, but I think these last two games helped us," May said. "We'll learn from this and bounce back."

Kentucky is college basketball's winningest program with a record of 1,821-569. The Tar Heels are 1,794-652. Only one other school - Kansas - has won at least 1,700 games.

Chuck Hayes hit a layup and a pair of free throws and Bogans converted a pair of layups in the first 3:47 to give Kentucky an 8-0 lead. After North Carolina missed its first six shots, Felton hit a runner 4:07 into the game.

North Carolina fought back and tied the game at 20-20 on a 3-pointer by Jonathan Holmes. After Bogans responded with a 3-pointer, McCants hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to give the Tar Heels their first lead at 25-23 with 9:07 left.

Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the half. With the game tied at 40-40, May hit the first of two free throws. McCants tipped in the second miss with a minute left to give North Carolina its 43-40 halftime advantage.

"They shot 52 percent against us in the first half and we were up by three, so I thought we were in good shape," Doherty said. "But we didn't come out with the energy in the second half that I had hoped for. That was disappointing."


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