Struggled to contain the Wildcats’ bigs
Kentucky’s big men set the tone for the Wildcat offense early and were a major factor in the nine-point cushion the team enjoyed heading into halftime. Most notable of the bigs was graduate forward Reid Travis, who gave UNC fits the entire game
Travis had 16 of his 20 points in the first 20 minutes of action. He scored no matter which Tar Heel player was assigned to guard him. The 6-foot-8 former Stanford Cardinal standout provided veteran leadership to a squad full of highly touted first-years.
He completed and-one plays in the first half on two different UNC big men: sophomore Garrison Brooks and senior Luke Maye. Travis hit five of his eight free throw attempts before halftime, as well. The only Tar Heel to get to the free throw line in the first half was graduate guard Cameron Johnson, who hit one of two attempts.
Kentucky sophomore forward P.J. Washington also had a strong performance. Washington scored 11 points to go with 10 rebounds and eight assists as UNC struggled to contain Washington, too. The 6-foot-8 Dallas native helped the Wildcats out-rebound the Tar Heels, 43-33.
Poor shot selection
When the Tar Heels found themselves in a hole at various points in the game, they began to take quick and ill-advised jump shots instead of patiently running their offense.
White, who is tied for second for the Tar Heels behind Johnson with 14.5 points per game, was often quick to shoot. The first-year guard rushed shot attempts and finished with eight points on just 3-for-10 shooting.
Fellow first-year Nassir Little also struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Little shot 2-for-8 from the floor and missed both of his 3-point attempts.
The production from Johnson and Maye balanced their teammates’ offensive woes and kept North Carolina in the game. Johnson had 17 points and finished with six makes on 10 attempts. Maye had 16 points and shot 6-of-13 from the field.
But when UNC trailed by six points with 24 seconds left in the game, Maye chose to attempt an NBA-range 3-pointer early in the shot clock instead of looking for an easy two-point basket. The miss allowed Kentucky to regain possession and knock down two free throws to stretch its lead.
Of course, many of UNC’s problems could have been avoided if it had taken care of the basketball.
A week ago, in win over highly-ranked Gonzaga, North Carolina had 23 total turnovers. Sharp shooting saved the Tar Heels against the Bulldogs, and they earned a double-digit win. But on Saturday against the Wildcats, the shots didn’t fall for UNC, and the turnover problem persisted.
North Carolina had 18 turnovers in the contest, and Kentucky scored 23 points off these miscues. The Wildcats’ defense, which had 12 steals, was obviously a factor. However, the Tar Heels threw the ball away on too many occasions.
Woods’ pass to White that was stolen by Kentucky’s Hagans was the cherry on top of UNC’s turnover sundae. The steal sealed the victory for the Wildcats and sent the Tar Heels back to Chapel Hill with some much-needed questions to answer before conference play begins early next month.
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