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Saturday, December 3, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 73, N. Carolina 72

By By Jason King

A few quick thoughts after Kentucky's thrilling 73-72 victory over North Carolina on Saturday.

Overview: Kentucky's Anthony Davis blocked John Henson's attempt at a game-winning field goal from the baseline with 5 seconds remaining in the top-ranked Wildcats' 73-72 victory over No. 5 North Carolina at Rupp Arena. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a game-high 17 points for UK, while Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller added 14 each for North Carolina, which led 60-56 with about 8 minutes remaining before losing the lead down the stretch. It was an epic game between two of the three winningest programs of all time and what certainly appear to be two of the three best teams in the country this season.

Turning point: Trailing 60-56, Kentucky uncorked a 13-4 run late in the second half and never trailed again. Doron Lamb hit two huge 3-pointers in that span, the second of which stretched a 66-64 lead into a 69-64 cushion with 3:25 remaining. North Carolina still had a chance when Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague missed the front end of a one-and-one with 21.5 seconds left and the Wildcats leading 73-72. The Tar Heels passed inside to Zeller on their final possession, but the senior center lost the ball and it ended up in the hands of Henson, whose shot was blocked by Davis on the baseline. Davis corralled the ball and passed it to Teague, who ran up the court as time expired, setting off a wild celebration as the Tar Heels somehow failed to foul.

Why Kentucky won: The Wildcats were simply better down the stretch. Lamb's 3-pointers were huge and Kidd-Gilchrist, who also had 11 rebounds, was active throughout the game. Kentucky continues to play excellent defense as well. UK blocked seven shots and forced North Carolina to shoot 41 percent from the field.

Why North Carolina lost: The Tar Heels struggled to get good looks in crunch time. They didn't have a 2-point field goal in the final 6 minutes, and even the two 3-pointers they hit (one by Barnes, the other by Reggie Bullock) were heavily defended. Still, this game was played at an extremely high level between two teams with rosters full of future first-round draft picks. It's hard to knock the Heels for a strong, gutsy performance in one of the toughest road environments in all of college basketball.

Star of the game: Davis came up with the biggest play by blocking Henson, but he hadn't been all that effective up to that point. Lamb scored 12 in the second half and his two late 3-pointers were huge, mainly because each of them were answer shots after North Carolina had pulled within one or two points on its previous possession. Those kinds of baskets will drain the life out of an opposing team. Still, the star of the game can be no one other than Kidd-Gilchrist, who finished with 17 points and 11 boards and was 6-of-10 from the field. There's no question he outplayed preseason All-American Barnes.

Other observations: North Carolina's P.J. Hairston was questionable entering the game, but he played and contributed 11 points and missed all but one shot. ... Former Kentucky stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight were in attendance. ... Carolina made six of its nine 3-point attempts in the opening half and finished 11-of-18 (61 percent) ... Barnes picked up his third foul with more than 6 minutes left in the opening half. ... Nearly 30 NBA scouts and front-office types attended Saturday's game. ... Third-year Kentucky coach John Calipari remains undefeated in Rupp Arena.

What's next: North Carolina kicks off a stretch of six straight home games when it hosts Evansville on Tuesday. Included in the stretch are tilts with Long Beach State and Texas. Kentucky's next game is against undefeated Indiana next Saturday in Bloomington. That should be another classic battle between blue bloods, although it'll be tough to top this one.