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Sunday, March 27, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 76, UNC 69

By Kieran Darcy


Recap | Box score

NEWARK, N.J. -- A quick take on Kentucky's 76-69 win over North Carolina on Sunday at the Prudential Center:

WHAT IT MEANS: Kentucky, the No. 4 seed, wins the NCAA tournament East Regional and advances to the Final Four by knocking off the No. 2 seed, North Carolina. For Kentucky, it's the first Final Four since 1998 -- ending the longest Final Four drought in the history of the program. The Wildcats had lost in the Elite Eight four straight times since then, including last season.

North Carolina fails to advance to the Final Four for a record-setting 19th time. The Tar Heels had faced the Wildcats twice before in the NCAA tournament -- both times in the Elite Eight -- and had won both times.

THE SKINNY: The first half of this game was dominated by Kentucky. After falling behind 4-2, the Wildcats were the much better team -- leading by as many as eight, which was the halftime margin, 38-30. Kentucky's swarming defense held North Carolina to 36.7 percent shooting (11-for-30), and power forward John Henson picked up his third foul with 6:39 left before intermission. On offense, Kentucky did not slow it down against the run-and-gun Tar Heels, as many expected the Wildcats would. Instead, they looked to attack on the fast break, and did so effectively. They also drained six of their 11 first-half 3-point attempts.

It took Kentucky almost three minutes to score its first point of the second half, but once it did, it jumped out to its largest lead of the game, 47-36, with 16:02 left. North Carolina kept making comeback runs, and Kentucky kept answering the bell. The Tar Heels actually tied it up at 67 with 3:18 remaining on a pair of Tyler Zeller free throws -- but they were never able to take the lead. A Brandon Knight trey with 2:51 remaining gave the Cats the lead for good, and the biggest shot of the game was a DeAndre Liggins trey with 35.6 seconds remaining that pushed a 70-69 lead to 73-69.

STAR WATCH: Knight -- who hit two game-winning shots in the first three games of this tournament, including on Friday night against Ohio State -- was the best player in this game, scoring 22 points, including five 3-pointers. Four other Kentucky players chipped in 12 or 11.

For North Carolina, Zeller had 21 and Harrison Barnes finished with 18, but Barnes really struggled with his shot.

NUMBER CRUNCH: Kentucky made 12 of 22 3-pointers (54.5 percent) -- shooting even better from beyond the arc than it did inside of it (48.2). That was the difference in the game. North Carolina made just three of 16 from beyond the arc.

WHAT'S NEXT: Kentucky will play UConn -- the No. 3 seed from the West Regional -- on Saturday night in Houston, with a spot in this year's national championship game on the line.

North Carolina heads home to Chapel Hill -- its season is over.