Saturday, December 3, 2011
Kentucky defense blocks UNC upset bid
Kentucky Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels had met four previous times when both schools were ranked in the top-five of the AP poll at the time of the game. In each of the previous four instances, the Tar Heels won and never had the margin been closer than seven points.
Both trends came to an abrupt end on on a single play Saturday in the 73-72 win, as the Wildcats improved to 8-0 on the season thanks to some standout defensive play.
Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis blocked a jump shot from John Henson to secure the one-point win. The game-ending block was just the fifth of his 36 blocked shots this season to come on a mid-range shot. And in a game that ended with a pointed defensive stop, it's not surprising that defense was also the story for much of the contest.
Down five points at halftime, Kentucky ratcheted up its half-court defense by limiting North Carolina to just 3-16 shooting on two-pointers in the second half. It was a continuation of a trend for the Wildcats, as they've been the nation's best defense this season, leading the country in adjusted defensive efficiency entering Saturday, according to KenPom.com. Specifically, the team's interior defense - a season-long strength - was on display yet again.
The Wildcats entered the game on Saturday leading the nation in blocked shots per game with 11.4 and added seven against North Carolina - their fewest in a game this season. But while the team might have fallen off its pace in terms of blocked shots, the defense as a whole cemented the team's win.
From North Carolina's end, Harrison Barnes scored 14 points in the loss and saw his streak of consecutive games with at least 15 points stop at 18. The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that it was the longest active streak among all Division I players and the longest such streak for North Carolina since Tyler Hansbrough did so 22 consecutive games from January to April of 2008.