Paige, home crowd help push UNC over Kentucky
Led by a combined 43 points from Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina defended its home floor in beating 11th-ranked Kentucky 82-77 Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Let's break down what happened and what it means for the future.
Kentucky's talented freshmen played like freshmen. This should not be a surprise since it was the first true road game in the college careers of the Wildcats' freshmen class, and it was against a quality opponent with an energized crowd behind it. Kentucky turned the ball over 17 times, compared to North Carolina's nine, while Julius Randle produced the roughest performance of his young career. Randle was hampered with foul trouble much of the afternoon and had difficulty finding openings in the half court, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting. The Harrison twins -- Andrew and Aaron -- had a mixed night on the floor. Despite keeping their team in the game for much of the evening, their reputation for sometimes demonstrating bad body language when things aren't going their way proved true down the stretch against Carolina.
• North Carolina held its own in the paint. Before the game, this was an area where Kentucky looked to have the advantage. The Wildcats led the nation in offensive rebounding, pulling down an impressive 46 percent of its misses. Against UNC, the Wildcats pulled down 17 offensive rebounds, their season average, but they turned those boards into only 19 points. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats came in as the second best team in the country in opponents' two-point field goal shooting at 38 percent. North Carolina was able to smash through that with 51 percent shooting on their two-point attempts and finished with a four-point edge in points in the paint.
• Both teams need to work on free throw shooting. The Tar Heels and Wildcats combined to shoot 63 percent from the line Saturday afternoon. Kentucky improved in the second half (shooting 77 percent compared to 53 percent in the first half), so perhaps there is hope for them. But other than Marcus Paige, who made all 10 of his free throw attempts, the Tar Heels remained horrible from the charity stripe. If you take away Paige's effort, the rest of the team made 16 out of 35 trips to the line. Both teams thrive on attacking inside, which could make the foul shooting woes a big issue all season.
• Star of the game. Marcus Paige, North Carolina. After a quiet two-point effort in the first half, the sophomore guard responded with 21 second half points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with his perfect performance from the foul line. He made several big shots down the stretch -- none bigger than a baseline floater that gave UNC a relatively comfortable five-point lead -- and ended as the game's leading scorer (23 points). Paige also chipped in on the defensive end with three steals.
• "Marcus Paige was sensational."
-- North Carolina coach Roy Williams, praising the second half performance of his sophomore guard.
• "We wanted to be aggressive AND patient."
-- Williams, talking about how he wanted the Tar Heels to attack on offense.
• "We are not a good team. Our emotion is all based on individual play"
-- Calipari, talking about his Kentucky team right now.
• "We just lost focus."
-- Kentucky wing James Young on how Kentucky competed today.
After a week of final exams, the UNC student body stuck around campus to provide a great home-court atmosphere in the Smith Center. It was probably part of the reason for the lack of focus the young Kentucky team showed at times. And to its credit, the crowd maintained its energy despite a great many stoppages in play -- with 56 total fouls called during the contest.
North Carolina will close out the 2013 calendar year with four straight home games beginning with Texas on Wednesday (Dec. 18) on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. EST. Next Saturday (Dec. 21), Kentucky will host Belmont, the team that knocked off North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Nov. 17. After that comes the rivalry game in Lexington with Louisville on Saturday (Dec. 28) at 4 p.m. EST.
Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is a columnist for Rush the Court's ACC microsite.