McAdoo Emerges as ‘Giant Killer’ Carolina Edges Kentucky 82-77

CHAPEL HILL– The No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels scraped their way to a gritty  82-77 victory over the No.10 Kentucky Wildcats in a raucous atmosphere inside the Dean Smith Center Saturday evening to improve to 7-2 on the year.

The enigmatic James Michael McAdoo displayed some much needed poise under pressure with 20 points and Marcus Paige made some clutch shots down the stretch in his leading contribution of  22 points  to guide Carolina to another impressive victory on the national stage.

Kentucky’s physicality was in full display, but Carolina managed to record their third win over a top ten team in the young season despite missing a whopping 19 missed foul shots. These Tar Heels seemingly save their best play for the best competition.

The Wildcats won the opening tip-off, but a turnover handed the ball to Carolina. The crowd was in full voice early in the game.

The first strike was delivered by Aaron Harrison of Kentucky on a slash inside and an athletic finish. J.P. Tokoto missed an open jumper on the other end, but  James Michael McAdoo drew a foul on a drive into the basket to earn a trip to the foul line with 18:09 on the clock.

McAdoo made both free throws to tie the score up at two before Kentucky responded with a bucket inside. But Tokoto had the answer with a score of his own for the Tar Heels.

Nate Britt grabbed a nice steal for Carolina, but Paige missed an open three-point attempt. The score was 7-4 in favor of the visiting Wildcats when a time out was called with 15:53 remaining in the first half.

Wildcat Andrew Harrison picked up a score and a foul on a make off the glass to push UK ahead 9-4. But Brice Johnson knocked down a shot for UNC to ignite the crowd. It was Johnson to the rescue again with  an earned trip to the line. But, he shockingly missed both free throws.

Tokoto made an outside three-pointer to tie the game at 9 points apiece with under 14 minutes on the first half clock. Alex Pothress broke the tie for the Wildcats on the next possession.

A pair of free throws for Wildcat James Young extended the UK lead to 13-9. But spark plug Johnson slammed one home to a loud eruption in the Smith Center to close the Tar Heels within 14-10 when time was called with 11:48 left in the half. Tokoto’s previous shot was ruled a two-pointer after reviewing video.

McAdoo made a jumper despite a tough foul on the shot. The game was becoming a rugged slugfest with the score at 14-12 when McAdoo missed the free throw.

McAdoo earned another trip to the line, and this time he managed to make both despite an ugly second shot. The Tar Heels turned Kentucky over on the other end and the score was 19-16 with just under nine minutes left in the first half.

Tokoto swished through a three-pointer to get the Tar Heel crowd on their feet. The intensity was picking up on both sides of the floor for Carolina, but Kentucky maintained a slim 20-19 lead with 7:35 on the clock.

Kennedy Meeks failed to convert on a free throw opportunity, and Willie Cauley-Stein made the Tar Heels pay on the other end with a nice follow-up shot off a miss to score for the Wildcats.

It didn’t take McAdoo long to get back to the free throw line. He made one. An electric run down the floor for Tokoto resulted in a lay-up off a sharp pass from McAdoo to get UNC back within one at 23-22 with 5:53 to play in the first half.

Joel James scored and Tokoto followed with a score of his own to give Carolina a 26-23 lead at the 5:13 mark. And some solid work on the defensive end stymied Kentucky, and Carolina had a 29-25 lead with 3:29 on the first half clock.

Wildcat Andrew Harrison got to the line and mad one free throw while Carolina’s offense stalled out. A dunk by Cauley-Stein tied the game with a few ticks on the clock. Head Coach John Calipari got a technical foul when he refused to stop berating the officials. Marcus Paige made a pair of free throws and McAdoo added one. The score stood at 33-30 Carolina at the half.

Kentucky opened proceedings in the final half of play with a some made foul shots. Carolina maintained a 35-32 lead with 18:22 left in the game. Paige layed one in inside and James tapped in another bucket to push the lead to 39-34 in favor of Carolina.

Young got to the free throw line for Kentucky  and made both to get his Wildcats within a pair of points with 16:54 left in the game.

Aaron Harrison tied the score at 39 with a break away lay in for Kentucky as the Tar Heel intensity was seeming to wane, allowing the Wildcats to gain momentum. The fouls kept flowing on Carolina players, and Kentucky was cashing in at the charity stripe, taking the lead at 40-39.

Paige stole the ball and returned it all the way to the basket to regain the lead for the Tar Heels when a time out was called with 15:21 on the clock.

The lead traded hands again when Harrison nailed a couple foul shots for Kentucky. Meeks was sent to the line on the other end, but the free throw woes continued for the Tar Heels. Meeks only converted on one to tie the game.

Harrison muscled his way inside to bank the ball in for the Wildcats and then he made another jumper. But the Tar Heels answered the bell by tying the game at 46 and then taking the lead on a Paige steal and layup to place Carolina ahead 48-46 with 13:25 left in the contest.

Britt scored inside for Carolina off a transition play to give the Tar Heels a 50-46 lead before Harrison banked one in on the other end.

The pace of play was accelerating into a feverish rate that had both programs gasping for breath at the time out with 11:34 left on the clock. The Tar Heels held a 54-48 lead.

McAdoo knocked in a fade-away jumper to maintain a six-point cushion for Carolina. McAdoo definitely was making his presence known in today’s game. But a recurring theme of getting to the foul line was becoming a factor for Kentucky, Their size and physicality was noticeable.

McAdoo drew a foul on UK’s Julius Randle and converted on one of the attempts. A nice drive inside  for a score by UK’s Harrison soon followed.

Some confusion developed on the offensive side of the court for Carolina. The Tar Heels turned it over. But they managed to shrug it off with an electric three-pointer by Marcus Paige to give them a 60-54 lead with 8:05 to play.

Britt drew a foul inside and converted on both of his shots to move Carolina ahead 62-54 with 6:52 remaining. Kentucky answered with a score to cut the deficit to a mere six points.

An impressive floater by Paige got the crowd on their feet. A defensive stop coupled with a McAdoo make really exploded the Smith Center. Carolina had built a 66-58 lead with 5:25 on the clock with some determined, gritty play.

A controversial call at the 4:40 mark gave UK a free trip to the foul line. But Young failed to make either. But he made a three-pointer off a rebound to make up for it. It was a five point game.

Paige drew a crucial foul with 3:00 remaining as time was called. Carolina held a 66-63 lead. Paige didn’t miss the shots. Carolina extended its lead.

Coach Roy Williams called a time out to collect his players with 2:07 left in the game. It worked. Paige made a clutch shot and Johnson emphatically slammed a dunk home. Carolina made enough stops down the stretch to emerge victorious in a hard-fought affair.

Oakes: Roy’s Remarks – UK Game No Big Deal?

“Nowadays, it’s not as important as it was five years ago, 10 years ago, and 20 years ago. In those times, you didn’t see these kinds of match-ups. Now with the tournaments going on, you see these kinds of match-ups in exempt events or special one-day and two-day events. To me it’s still important, but it’s not what it used to be.”


Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications

Head Coach Roy Williams made this comment at his pre-Kentucky press conference Thursday.

And it is true. The Carolina-Kentucky game, so steeped in tradition and so ripe with basketball royalty, is not as big. It’s just another powerhouse match-up in the long line of top programs going at it each other in the season. How tragic, right?

Oh, the good ol’ days. Oh how we long for the times when national powers rarely collided, and ravaged local competition, only stepping up in class once or twice a year before the NCAA Tournament. We miss those days, right?

Well, I don’t. I like big match-ups. All the time. Rivalries are what turn the dial up. Rivalries and top-notch showdowns are what make college sports, and really ALL sports, so special. And the more, the merrier.

Let’s be honest. We don’t watch for the Carolina-Holy Cross or Carolina-Northern Kentucky games. Well, maybe this year to see if the Tar Heels are going to show up. But that’s beside the point.

Our heart doesn’t flutter for those routine contests. And our hairs don’t stand up on our back in nervous excitement for largely irrelevant match-ups with small, undermanned programs, even though those numbers in the win column may be extra padded.

We watch for epic overtime games with two dynasties going at it, with Hall of Fame coaches barking out orders to teams laden with McDonald’s All-Americans striving to add another glorious highlight in the long head-to-head series. It’s these games that are truly meaningful.

Both programs expect wholeheartedly to emerge the victor in these showdowns. Each side knows it will have to play its absolute best or risk being run off the court. Ah, yes.

It’s not to say the magnitude of the Tar Heels-Wildcats game has diminished. I don’t think it has at all. Not one bit Just tune in to ESPN Saturday at 5:15 pm and witness the “white-out” crowd in full voice in the Dean Dome. Enough said.

No, it’s no slap at Carolina-Kentucky. It’s just a factor of there being a “Carolina-Kentucky-esque” battle going on every other week these days.

But is that really a bad thing? I don’t believe so, unless you’re just being selfish and only want Carolina to be involved in the massive collisions that grab the national spotlight.

Hold your horses, fellas. Carolina-Kentucky and Carolina-Duke still ratchet up the dial. Those babies are just as meaningful as ever. There just happens to be a few more headline acts joining them on the big stage now.

And that’s a great thing for college basketball. Kansas-Duke, Kentucky-Michigan State, UNC-Louisville. I say bring them on. Let the salivating entrees on the college basketball buffet line keep coming.

Just when you thought you were absolutely stuffed and couldn’t possibly fit one more morsel of food in your stomach, always remember…

There’s always room for dessert.

Carolina Blue Meets Big Blue as Storied Programs Collide

CHAPEL HILL– After a year hiatus from the rivalry, the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels are again ready to take on No. 10 Kentucky in a Saturday home showdown between two of the top three winningest college basketball programs in history.

With exams now in the rear view mirror, the 6-2 Tar Heels can turn their full attention to the task at hand: beating a third top ten team of the season.

Carolina’s Joel James has earned a spot in the starting lineup. Head Coach Roy Williams says James is a work in progress, but he’s been impressed with his improved defensive performance.

“He’s consistently done some really good things defensively. He was the defensive player of the game against Michigan State. He had a good defensive grade against UNC-Greensboro. He gives us the size and the power to help control the rim area quite a bit better than we did last year. He is a project, which is okay. I love that part of him,” Coach Williams says.

Carolina leads the all-time series against the Wildcats 22-13, but Kentucky squeaked out a 73-72 win in Rupp Arena in 2011.

Coach Williams says what stands out most about this year’s edition is the ability of UK Coach John Calipari to get his young, highly touted athletes to play together as a team.

“John’s [Calipari] ability, the way he’s got them playing together. You know freshmen coming in with all the hoopla that they have tended to a lot of times try to live up that. I think John has proven many years, that he can get highly skilled players and get them to focus on the team aspect of it,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams knows how tough the game will be on Saturday as he says he tried extremely hard to recruit a couple of Kentucky’s young stars himself.

“They are an unselfish bunch. That part is going to get better and better and better. I just think when you have gifted kids, I mean, there is a lot of guys on that list that I tried to recruit. And a couple of them I tried really, really hard to recruit,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore Marcus Paige gives some insight into the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ mentality of the Tar Heels so far this season. He says it’s just easier to compete at the highest level when facing the toughest competition.

“I think whenever you play a really highly ranked team or a big-time program, you just automatically have that. You still have to bring it against those other teams. But it’s a lot easier to get up for a game as big as the one we have Saturday or as big as the ones that we’ve won. I’d want to say that we’d come with the same approach every game, but honestly as a competitor, that’s just not the case,” Paige says.

Carolina will certainly be facing a hungry and supremely talented Wildcat team Saturday. So should Tar Heel Nation expect another top-notch performance from Carolina? We will see soon enough.

December Grind: Exams, Kentucky Greeting UNC Basketball Student-Athletes

CHAPEL HILL– The Tar Heels are certainly living up to the student-athlete label this week. The Carolina basketball team is juggling the rigorous demands of exams with the focused preparation needed during Kentucky week.

Saturday’s game against the No. 10 Wildcats will provide another opportunity for these up and down Tar Heels to knock off a top-ten opponent. But this time, Carolina will have the luxury of playing in the Smith Center.

Freshman Kennedy Meeks contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes during the UNC-Greensboro contest. He led the Tar Heels in rebounds for the third time in eight games. Meeks says he expects a lot out of himself.

“I always expected nothing the best out of me. I feel like I am maintaining my goals right now,” Meeks says.

The Tar Heels did their best to shake the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ label last Saturday night in their 81-50 demolition of UNC-Greensboro. Leading scorer Brice Johnson says the team was determined to come out with the necessary focus to avoid another letdown after a big win.

“It just seemed like we weren’t focused after the Louisville game probably. But we were more focused coming out for this game. We were like we can’t keep doing that. We have to play up to our standards,” Johnson says.

Assistant coach C.B. McGrath says he attributes Carolina’s inconsistency so far this season to the youth of the Tar Heels. He says it actually can be more fun to coach a bunch of young guys in practice, but not so much in the games.

“Sometimes it is more fun in terms of coaching them, but sometimes the games won’t be as much fun. Both times we won national championships; our best players were juniors and seniors. Right now, we’re playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and it has been fun,” Coach McGrath says.

Going into the Kentucky game, the Tar Heels will be looking to continue their fine defensive play. Carolina is holding opponents to 37.6 percent shooting from the floor, which ranks second in the ACC.

C.B. McGrath says he really sees the team buying in to the defense more than in years past when UNC had the ability to just outscore everybody.

“We’re doing better guarding the ball. It’s so hard to guard the basketball this day and age. You just got to try and make them change their path a little bit. […] I do think we’re making some strides. I do think that the guys have bought in to the defensive end of the court,” Coach McGrath says.