We knew going in that this game, despite Carolina’s struggles, would be a test of a young team in its first road game in a big-time environment. We didn’t know, however, that it would also test them in countless other ways. The Cats fought tight whistles, a poor performance on the glass and a UNC team that played hard the whole way, only to come up just short in the end, 75-73. One or two plays could have turned the game for the Cats, but such is life in college basketball. Despite not playing their best game, Kentucky still had a chance to win it in the end and that’s something positive to take away from an otherwise tough loss.
On to some notes on the game…
—Doron Lamb said leading up to the weekend that this was a big game for him, and he played like he meant it. Lamb had 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 3-of-4 from deep, basically carrying the Cats in the first half as they battled foul trouble. He scored in a variety of ways and didn’t register a turnover on the day, leading the charge for a Kentucky team who struggled a little bit in offensive execution. Lamb is silky smooth and if he had gotten the runner to go near the end of the game the performance could have been one of the most memorable by a freshman in recent memory.
—Unfortunately for Lamb, no one else stepped up with a performance to match his. Without Brandon Knight or Terrence Jones having a good game, it becomes very difficult for the Cats to beat anyone, especially a desperate team needing a win in the worst way. Jones was an abysmal 3-for-17 and his matchup with Harrison Barnes [12 points on 4-of-10] was pretty much a wash as neither had a game worthy of praise. Knight shot 5-for-12 and again had more turnovers than assists [6 to 4] before fouling out. Tough day for the freshmen, as Kentucky needs something more from one or both of them to give themselves a chance to win.
—By far the biggest difficulty the Cats had to face on the afternoon was foul trouble, as three guys joined Knight on the bench by the end. The Heels attacked Kentucky inside, getting Harrellson and Eloy Vargas in trouble early and even forcing them each to play with three fouls late in the first half. Terrence Jones and the pair all eventually fouled out down the stretch. You can say what you want about the referees, and they were universally terrible, but the Cats did themselves no favors by committing some really silly fouls, especially Jorts’ 5th, and their lack of depth was exposed in the worst way because of the fouls.
—With the front line thinned out, Tyler Zeller was allowed to look like Kevin McHale. He led the Heels to a 43-37 rebounding edge that didn’t seem that close and hit 11-of-12 from the line in what seemed like an endless parade of his busted-up mug to the center of your television to shoot free throws. The Cats’ interior defense (and defense in general) was lacking to say the least, and the interior offense was arguably even worse. The Heels crushed Kentucky 34-14 in points in the paint and 11-5 on second chance points, two numbers that make it seem like a small miracle that it was only a two-point game.
—If you’re in the business of silver linings, the Cats shot the ball pretty well from outside on the day. They hit 9-of-21 from downtown, including 5-of-9 in the first half, and the outside shooting helped keep Kentucky fighting every time Carolina tried to make a run. The free throw shooting was also solid, and downright incredible relative to what it’s been so far, as the Cats knocked down 16-of-21 from the stripe. However, missing the front end of a huge one-and-one down the stretch and seeing the Heels march to the line 37 times on the day made the improvement seem for naught.
—I don’t think I could recreate the sound I made when Jorts got that putback.
—Darius Miller also had a game worth mentioning. He scored 13 and shot 50% from the field, hitting some big threes and hitting the boards to pull down seven rebounds. While one can always want more aggression from Miller, if he has the solid game he had today every time out there won’ be too many complaints.
—The offensive execution, particularly down the stretch, left a little to be desired. The team hasn’t fully grasped the dribble-drive and had trouble finishing around the rim today, but more concerning was a lack of aggression from the Cats. Part of that could be from the nerves of playing their first big game on the road or from a general uncertainty as a result of no one outside of Doron Lamb being able to get going on offense, but it wasn’t what we’ve generally seen from the squad this year. Still, I don’t think it’s something that will plague this team, which is full of guys that aren’t afraid to attack.
Overall, it’s a tough loss but one that isn’t worth melting down over. Carolina was desperate, but the Cats showed a lot of guts in scrapping til the end of a game where they didn’t play their best. Kentucky can learn much going forward from the loss, but must get ready to play Notre Dame in Freedom Hall on Wednesday. I’ll be along later with something, I can almost assure you.