UNC Women’s Tennis Slips Past Northwestern into Sweet 16

Having won 20 matches in a row entering Saturday’s second round of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Team Tournament, UNC found itself in an unfamiliar situation against Northwestern–needing one of its final two singles competitors to keep the season alive.

Luckily for head coach Brian Kalbas, some big heart showed up in the form of the team’s smallest player.

Senior Ashley Dai, who stands just 5-feet-2-inches tall, defeated the Wildcats’ Brooke Rischbeith 7-6, 3-6, 6-0 to give the Tar Heels a 4-2 victory at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center in Chapel Hill.

Had Rischbeith been able to win the third set against Dai, and thus the individual match, Northwestern would have been in prime position to take the overall team match.

The Tar Heels found themselves in a bit of an unfamiliar position late in the match against Northwestern. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels found themselves in a bit of an unfamiliar position late in the match against Northwestern. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Alicia Barnett held a 4-3 lead over UNC’s Jessie Aney in the third set of their singles competition, which was stopped only because Dai clinched the win for the Tar Heels.

UNC (31-2) earned the doubles team point with stellar showings from the teams of Aney and Kate Vialle–who won their match 6-0–and Hayley Carter and Whitney Kay–who won their match 6-3.

Not until singles competition did Northwestern mount a push, splitting the first four of those contests with the Tar Heels.

Carter (7-5, 6-4) and freshman Chloe Ouellet-Pizer (6-2, 6-2) each did their part for UNC, though, picking up points against a Wildcat team that played well above the 14-11 record it finishes the year with.

But it was Dai that came up big for the Tar Heels when it mattered most, sending them onto the next round with their national title hopes still intact.

Up Next:

UNC will be back in action on Thursday, May 19 when it takes on an ACC rival, Virginia, at 10:00 a.m.

The Tar Heels defeated Virginia 4-3 in Charlottesville back on March 3, and again in the ACC Tournament on April 23–but by a score of 4-1 in the second matchup.

Game Notes:

  • UNC has now set a new school record with 31 wins in a season. The Tar Heels 16-0 record at home this year also extends their home winning streak to 41 matches.
  • The match was just the 12th time in 33 outings that the Tar Heels allowed their opponents to score at least two team points.
  • On 14 occasions this season UNC has shutout its opponent.





Jenkins’ Shot Stuns UNC at the Buzzer; Wins Title For Villanova

Following a miracle sent from the heavens down to Houston–an off-balance, game-tying three-pointer by UNC guard Marcus Paige with four seconds remaining–Villanova forward Kris Jenkins got the ball wide open at the top of the key.

Jenkins then calmly swished a three of his own–leading the Wildcats to an unbelievable 77-74 victory over the Tar Heels in Monday night’s NCAA National Championship Game.

“All we needed was 4.7 seconds of defense,” an emotional Paige said after the game. “It didn’t work out.

“Kris is their best three-point shooter and he got a pretty clean look—for whatever reason,” he continued. “There’s 75 possessions in the game, and they just happened to get the last one and make the shot.”

Marcus Paige walks off the court after Jenkins' shot. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige walks off the court after Jenkins’ shot. (Todd Melet)

UNC, led by Paige, had just put together a furious run to rally from 10 points down in the final five minutes.

It clearly wasn’t supposed to end like that.

The Tar Heels had proven doubters wrong all season, and this was supposed to be their moment and their time.

It was supposed to be time for Paige and his fellow seniors Brice Johnson and Joel James to end their college careers the right way, and it was supposed to be time for fans to flood Franklin Street so they could celebrate all night.

Instead, it was Villanova that was left with all the time—those 4.7 seconds to be exact—after Paige’s prayer.

All UNC head coach Roy Williams could do from the sidelines was watch.

“I saw Kris shoot it,” Williams said. “And his follow-through looked great. I pretty much knew it was going in—and it was.

“It was helpless,” the coach added, after pausing for a second to keep from choking up. “It was not a good feeling.”

Jenkins, the legal brother of UNC guard Nate Britt, set off every firework inside NRG Stadium as his shot instantly became one of the most memorable in NCAA history–leaving the Tar Heels—and the entire town of Chapel Hill–in a state of disbelief.

The Tar Heels rallied to tie the game after being 10 points down with five minutes to go .(Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels rallied to tie the game after being 10 points down with five minutes to go. (Todd Melet)

“When we were down 10, in the huddle I promised them—if they do what I told ‘em to do we’d have a chance to win the game at the end,” Williams said. “I just didn’t go guard Kris.”

Although Villanova needed to go the length of the floor to get a shot off, the Wildcats put the ball in the hands of their senior leader—and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player—Ryan Arcidiacono.

Having already amassed 16 points in the game the Tar Heels were focused on him and guard Phil Brooks, who had 20.

Jenkins, who inbounded the ball, was supposed to be picked up by Johnson–according to Williams–but the Tar Heel big man was wandering around down low. Aricidiacono then found Jenkins and tossed him the ball as he cut past–leaving Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks having to scramble out late.

The ball left Jenkins’ hands with just a split second remaining, and the rest is now history.

“It’s so crazy,” Williams said. “A couple of times we rolled the ball [inbounds] to save a couple of seconds and that was the smart thing to do. Maybe if it hadn’t have gone in we’d have had it in overtime.

“The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small,” he continued. “But the difference in your feelings is so large.”

Villanova’s high-pressure defense forced the Tar Heels into a three-point battle and prevented them from getting comfortable inside all night long. With a Villanova player consistently fronting him in the post, Johnson was limited to just 14 points.

UNC’s other top forwards, Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, combined to score just eight as UNC was outscored in the paint for just the sixth time all year.

UNC was unable to get its big men going against Villanova's tough defense. (Todd Melet)

UNC was unable to get its big men going against Villanova’s tough defense. (Todd Melet)

However, Berry had 20 points–including 15 in the first half–and made all four threes he took in one of his best performances of the year.

Justin Jackson even hit a trio of three-pointers to keep UNC alive early on.

But at the end it still appeared Paige was going to get the storybook ending he deserved–even after struggling for most of the year.

The man Williams calls a “tough little nut” scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the final two minutes–including the three that appeared it would hand UNC its sixth national championship.

Like most fairy tales, though, it was just too good to be true.

“You want that to be your moment,” Paige said. “As bad as you’ve ever wanted anything in your life, you don’t know how much our team wanted this game.

“We just came up a little bit short.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels are expected to return to Chapel Hill at around 2 p.m. on Tuesday. For the seniors–Paige, Johnson, and James–it was their final time wearing a UNC jersey out on the court.

Game Notes:

  • Jenkins had the first buzzer beater to win title since Lorenzo Charles dunk for NC State in 1983. He finished with 14 points in the game after battling foul trouble in the first half.
  • This is the fifth time North Carolina has lost in the National Championship game. The previous four opponent’s head coaches are all in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • North Carolina had the second-highest three-point field-goal percentage (64.7) in a tournament loss in the last 20 seasons.




No. 9 UNC Lays the Smackdown on Davidson, 98-65

In their first game since defeating No. 2 Maryland this past Tuesday, the No. 9 UNC men’s basketball team put together another impressive performance on Sunday—blowing out the Davidson Wildcats by a score of 98-65.

Davidson entered Sunday with a 5-0 record, but could never seem to get rolling as Coach Bob McKillop’s team drops to 5-1 with its first loss of the year.

The Wildcats allowed the Tar Heels to score the game’s first 10 points, and were unable to shoot their way back into it—making just 34 percent of their shots thanks to some stingy defense by UNC.

Nate Britt matched his career-high with 17 points off the bench, in just 16 minutes. (Todd Melet)

Nate Britt matched his career-high with 17 points off the bench, in just 16 minutes. (Todd Melet)

Carolina head coach Roy Williams now sees his team improve to 7-1 with the win–having come out on top in all four of its games since its stunning loss to Northern Iowa.

“That was a nice, workmanlike effort,” Williams said after the game. “No question about that.

“Davidson’s a team that can really shoot the basketball, and they missed several shots early they normally make. Perhaps that made them stress a little bit more. They shot 23 percent in the first half.”

Five players reached double figures in scoring for the Tar Heels—including all three guards, Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, and Nate Britt.

Tying his career-high for the second time this season, Britt led the team with 17 points off the bench in just 16 minutes of playing time.

UNC also hammered Davidson in the rebounding department, grabbing 52 boards compared to the Wildcats’ 31. Many times in the game, a missed Davidson shot turned into easy transition buckets—as UNC finished with 26 points on the fast break alone.

“Rebounding, I thought was something,” Williams said. “Kennedy [Meeks] had seven rebounds in the first 10 minutes of the game and then ended up with 10 [rebounds] and nine [points]. Again, I thought it was a total team effort. We got a lot of good things from a lot of people.”

He then acknowledged Britt’s performance by saying that, “No question, Nate [Britt] acted like the microwave out there for a while. He came in and gave us a big lift.”

Coming off a 41-point effort in his team’s last game against Charlotte, Davidson guard Jack Gibbs was largely held in check by UNC on Sunday. For the game Gibbs finished with 19 points, but he connected on just seven of his 20 shots, and turned the ball over five times.

Listening to Paige, one of the players guarding him all game, it was clear that was largely a product of the Tar Heels’ defensive strategy.

UNC dominated Davidson on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 51-32. (Todd Melet)

UNC dominated Davidson on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 51-32. (Todd Melet)

“We game-planned for the three-point attack,” Paige said. “They shoot 30 threes a game—which is a lot. I think half of their attempts in the first half were threes.

“So we knew that coming in that we were gonna have to defend the three-point line, and run their guys off the line,” he added. “Gibbs is just a great all-around player, so we were gonna have to contain him.”

The feelings after such a dominant performance against a school like Davidson—one with a winning tradition and a penchant for playing the top teams in the country down to the wire—has Paige and the rest of the team feeling optimistic about the direction it’s heading here early in the season.

“[Davidson’s] a good team,” Paige said. “They were 5-0 coming in. Coach [Williams] said that was probably the second-best team, or you know, arguably the second-best team we’ve played outside of Maryland.

“So we had a lot of respect for them,” he continued. “We just played well today.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will take some time off for final exams this week, before heading to Austin, Texas on Saturday to take on the Texas Longhorns and their new head coach, Shaka Smart.

Game Notes:

  • The 33-point win was the largest by Carolina over Davidson since an 89-20 win on Feb. 7, 1945. That was 28 games ago in the series.
  •  The 98 points are a season high for UNC (previous was 92 vs. Fairfield).
  • Carolina shot 50.7 percent from the floor, the fifth time in eight games and the second consecutive game that the Tar Heels shot 50 percent or better.
  • Marcus Paige hit a pair of three-pointers. He moved past Wayne Ellington into second-place in career three-pointers at UNC with 231. Shammond Williams is first with 233.




Tar Heels Storm Back To Down K-State; Claim CBE Classic Title

For a moment on Tuesday night it appeared as if the No. 9 ranked UNC men’s basketball team was on its way to its second loss in three games.

The Tar Heels were down by eight points with less than five minutes to play, but then exploded on a 21-3 run to defeat the Kansas State Wildcats 80-70–in Kansas City–to win the CBE Hall of Fame Classic Championship.

“I told ‘em at the three-minute and 28 second [mark] that I felt like we were in good shape—that our team could be made right now” UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “A team is made during the season. It’s not made in preseason practice.”

Justin Jackson's star continues to rise after winning tournament MVP honors. (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson’s star continues to rise after winning tournament MVP honors. (Todd Melet)

Williams now sees his team improve to 5-1 this season, all while senior point guard Marcus Paige sits with a broken hand.

The late surge–which included a rare dunk by Kennedy Meeks and three-pointers from Joel Berry and Theo Pinson—helped hand the Wildcats their first loss of the year, dropping their record to 4-1.

It also spoiled a career night for Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes, whose hot shooting touch carried his team, and led to a game-high 24 points.

“The Stokes kid, he was really something,” Williams said. “If I’m not mistaken he had made four threes in all their games previous to this one. He made six of ‘em today—six out of eight. One time I think we fouled him, and he still made it.”

Sophomore wing Justin Jackson continued his recent dominance for the Tar Heels, dropping 22 points and handing out six assists—his third straight 20 point effort. He was also named the tournament’s MVP when it was all said and done.

Not wanting to see that type of production go to waste, the wiry, 6-foot-8, Jackson brought his teammates close and delivered a simple message in the closing moments.

“I called everybody together and I said, ‘We’re only gonna do this together,’” Jackson said. “We had four minutes to do it. And so we went out there got a few stops, got some good shots, and guys knocked ‘em in.

“From here on out,” he continued. “When we play together, and when we get defensive stops like Coach tells us we need to do–we can play with anybody.”

The frontcourt duo of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson combined for 26 points, while Theo Pinson added 11.

The Tar Heels will now get a week off before taking on the nation's No. 2 ranked team. (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels will now get a week off before taking on the nation’s No. 2 ranked team. (Todd Melet)

However, it was clear that the team could use Paige back as soon as possible.

Guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt contributed just 12 total points on 4-of-14 shooting, while turning the ball over five times.

Williams was happy to escape Kansas City with the win, but the coach says these games take their toll on his body as he ages.

“I’m only so old, there’s only so many little hops I got left out there,” Williams said, referencing his trademark jumps he does when he gets angry. “I think [we] can build on it. But what [we] need to build on is to see it on tape and see the mistakes [we] made that put [us] in that spot. And then change those.

“And then see the enthusiasm and the effort that [we] had there at the end—and then build on that.”

Up Next:

Next up for the Tar Heels is a long Thanksgiving break before coming back next Wednesday to take on the nation’s No. 2 ranked team, the Maryland Terrapins—possibly with Paige back in the lineup.

Game Notes:

  • Brice Johnson led UNC with 10 rebounds, but no other Tar Heel even had five.
  • Not until the Tar Heels scored with nine seconds remaining did either team hold a double digit lead.
  • UNC shot 55 percent in the second half after making 39 percent in the first.



Tar Heels Get Back on Track, Defeat Northwestern 80-69

An upset loss at Northern Iowa on Saturday caused the UNC men’s basketball team to slip from first to ninth in the AP Top 25, but the Tar Heels recovered nicely on Monday—defeating the Northwestern Wildcats 80-69 in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic played in Kansas City.

UNC improves its record to 4-1 this season, while former Duke assistant coach Chris Collins saw his Wildcats lose their first game of the year—dropping to 3-1.

Leading the way for head coach Roy Williams was 6-foot-8 sophomore Justin Jackson, who poured in 21 points and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.

Jackson—expected by many to have a breakout campaign–has now led the team in scoring for two straight games after struggling to show a killer instinct over the past couple weeks.

Justin Jackson (44) had a slow start to the season, but has played well as of late. (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson (44) had a slow start to the season, but has played well as of late. (Todd Melet)

“I told you guys if [Jackson] was my biggest worry, what a great situation I was in,” Williams said after the game. “I do know a little bit about the game, and I was not concerned with Justin Jackson.

“But we’ve talked about the aggressiveness—a lot,” the coach added.

The sophomore was one of six UNC players to finish the game in double figures, as all five starters hit the mark–along with junior forward Isaiah Hicks off the bench.

Northwestern put up a fight throughout, and led by as many as six points in the first half—but the Tar Heels went on a 14-1 run before the break and never looked back, leading by as many as 20 during the second half.

All this despite the team making just 7-of-25 three-point attempts against Northwestern’s 2-3 zone, and getting only five points from sixth man Nate Britt.

“Needless to say, we haven’t shot the ball well the last two games—particularly from three,” Williams said. “Nate [Britt] was hot as he could possibly be early, and he’s really struggled the last two games.

“It’s the first time all season we’ve played against a zone the entire game,” he added. “Down the line I think that’ll really help us.”

Senior forward Brice Johnson had 10 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double in five games, but the big story of the night was definitely Jackson stepping up into the role many expected him to take by the horns this season.

It’s these kind of performances Williams has been looking for while he allows star point guard Marcus Paige to recover from his broken hand.

“The bottom line is if we had to have [Paige], we could have played him last week,” Williams said. “But we don’t have to have him. We’re trying to be very cautious. If it had been an NCAA Tournament game, I’d have played him.

Joining the starters in double figures was junior forward Isaiah Hicks (4). (Todd Melet)

Joining the starters in double figures was junior forward Isaiah Hicks (4). (Todd Melet)

“But I said we’re gonna be very careful,” he continued before adding in a little joke. “I may not play him until February—probably will though.”

Northwestern received a big contribution from guard Tre Demps, who tallied 21 points and hit four shots from beyond the arc in the game. Guard play dominated the night for Coach Collins’ team–as Demps, Bryant McIntosh, and Scottie Lindsey combined for 46 of the Wildcats’ 69 points.

“Northwestern’s got some guys that can shoot the basketball,” Williams said. “Nine-for-20 from the three-point line is not what we want to give up, but you got to give them credit too. Chris [Collins] does a nice job, and they know their roles. And they played well.”

Up Next:

Now UNC will have to turn right around and get ready for another late night game without Paige on Tuesday, as they’ll face a tough Kansas State team—a squad that defeated Missouri 66-42 in the first semifinal game on Monday.

Game Notes:

  • The Tar Heels made the most of their free throw opportunities–sinking 17-of-19 from the charity stripe.
  • Sophomore wing Theo Pinson did a nice job distributing the ball–dishing out eight assists–but also turned it over four times.
  • Six of Jackson’s 13 rebounds came on the offensive end.



Dramatic Tar Heel Rally Falls Inches Short

A relentless offensive attack on the young UNC pitchers in the early innings was enough for the Davidson Wildcats to hold on in the ninth for an exciting 12-11 win over the 22nd ranked Tar Heels, sending Coach Mike Fox’s club to their fifth loss in their last seven games, and an overall record of 12-8. Davidson continues to head in the opposite direction, improving to 10-5 and earning their fifth win in six games.

Falling behind by ten runs is usually a death sentence for any baseball team, but the Tar Heels fought valiantly after finding themselves in that position at one point, scoring nine runs in the last three innings to bring themselves within one.

With the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth and two outs, an incredible leaping catch at the left-field wall by Davidson outfielder Ty Middlebrooks robbed Logan Warmoth of a walk-off hit, and prevented a comeback for the ages.

Ty Middlebrooks' leaping grab prevented a Tar Heel comeback for the ages. (UNC Athletics)

Ty Middlebrooks’ leaping grab prevented a Tar Heel comeback for the ages. (UNC Athletics)

“All I could do was just put the ball in play and just hope the best happened,” Warmoth says, “Obviously, it didn’t, but it’s alright, we kept on battling the whole game, which really shows what this team is all about.”

Unfortunately, pitching woes right from the get-go sank the Tar Heels yet again.

Carolina’s mid-week games have presented plenty of challenges related to pitching depth, exposing one of the team’s major problems through the first third of the 2015 campaign. Since the big arms reserved for the weekend (Benton Moss, JB Bukauskas, Trent Thornton, Zac Gallen) aren’t typically available to provide long innings during the week, the bullpen depth is counted on to step up their production in these kind of games.

Desperately looking to get out of their recent funk, the Tar Heels turned to sophomore AJ Bogucki to come through on the mound against the Wildcats, in just his second start of the season.

“We gotta get somebody that can start a game in the middle of the week and give us some innings,” Coach Fox says, “Some of those other guys have gotta step up and give us more than two innings or we’re gonna fight like that in every mid-week game.”

Coach Fox went with AJ Bogucki starting on the mound. (UNC Athletics)

Three at-bats ended up being all it took, though, for Davidson to jump out to an early two-run lead.

A one-out error in center-field by Adam Pate, who was filling in for Skye Bolt, allowed Davidson’s Ryan Lowe to get all the way to third base, which set up the RBI chance for first baseman David Daniels.  Daniels’ singled to score the first run, and then he would end up scoring himself later in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Sam Foy.

After setting the side down in order in the top of the second, Bogucki (0-2) again found trouble in the third. A base-hit and a walk put two Wildcats on base with no outs, just good enough to earn the hook from pitching coach Scott Forbes, who placed the ball in the hands of Spencer Trayner.

Davidson right-fielder Lee Miller seemed to be just fine with that decision, crushing a two-run double that extended the lead for his team, and ended Trayner’s day just as quickly as it began. The next man up out of the Tar Heel bullpen was 6’6″ freshman Jason Morgan, who met a similar fate, surrendering a three-run double to Alec Acosta, before he was able to record the last two outs and stop the bleeding.

It was all Davidson at the beginning. (UNC Athletics)

The onslaught continued into the fourth inning, as David Daniels added to his RBI total with a two-run bomb to left-field off of Morgan. Then Acosta drove in another off of lefty Nick Raquet, burying UNC in a ten-run hole, that could have been described at the time as about “six-feet deep.”

Not until the freshman shortstop,Warmoth, hit his first career home-run, a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth, did the crowd at Boshamer Stadium have anything to cheer for.

Brian Miller knocked in the second RBI for the Tar Heels in the next inning when his single scored second baseman Elijah Sutherland, and closed the gap to just eight runs.

Teammates rejoice with Alex Raburn after his three-run homer in the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Teammates rejoice with Alex Raburn after his three-run homer in the ninth. (UNC Athletics)

Davidson added a couple more runs of their own in the seventh–drawing a pair of bases loaded walks against reliever Hansen Butler, before the Tar Heels answered in their half with three more tallies on a two-run double from first baseman Zack Gahagan and a follow-up RBI single by Warmoth.

It was just too little, too late, as the Wildcats held on by the skin of their teeth in the final inning to take home the win.

Alex Raburn hit a three-run homer, Brian Miller drove in his second run of the day, and Zack Gahagan hit a two-run single, all in the bottom of the ninth, to pull Carolina within one with two outs on the board, and give them a chance to pull out a miraculous win.

Wildcats’ closer Cody White then saw Warmoth step in to the batter’s box and the rest is history.

“It’s a crazy game, I’ve seen some crazy things happen on the field,” says Coach Fox, “And that would have been something if that ball would have gone out or gone off the wall and we’d have won right there. We probably wouldn’t have deserved to, but I give our kids credit for battling.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heel baseball bus is off to Atlanta for a tough three-game ACC road series with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who are tied for first in the Coastal Division with a 4-2 conference record thus far.

Game Notes: 

  • Davidson starting pitcher Ryan Lowe also hit second in the batting order, going 1-3 on the day, unusual in college baseball because the designated hitter rule is used to prevent pitchers from having to hit.
  • Freshman Brian Miller, a walk-on out of Raleigh, provided a bright spot for UNC, playing solid in left-field and going 4-5 at the plate with a walk and two RBI. He’s batting .450 on the year.
  • Fellow Tar Heel freshmen Logan Warmoth and Zack Gahagan combined for 6 RBI. (Warmoth -2, Gahagan- 4)
  • Of the eight pitchers used by UNC in the game, four are freshmen (Morgan, Raquet, Butler, Williams) and three are sophomores (Bogucki, Trayner, Rice).  Chris McCue was the lone upperclassman to make an appearance on the mound.



Struggling Diamond Heels Play Host to Davidson Tuesday

The Diamond Heels return home Tuesday for a midweek test at Boshamer Stadium with an in-state foe, the 9-5 Davidson Wildcats.

Uncharacteristic losses in four of the past six games have dropped Coach Mike Fox and his UNC baseball squad to 22nd in the polls and left Carolina with a less than spectacular 12-7 overall record, to go with an average 3-3 mark in the ACC.

Inefficiency from the bullpen, along with a mix-and-match infield struggling to play solid defense behind the pitchers, has doomed the Tar Heels in recent weeks, especially with injuries to closer Reilly Hovis, starting pitcher Benton Moss and shortstop Wood Myers.

Alex Raburn has played three different infield positions this year at times. (UNC Athletics)

Alex Raburn has played three different infield positions at times this year. (UNC Athletics)

One bright spot over the past few games for the team has been senior reliever Trevor Kelley, who has been Carolina’s “savior” recently, Coach Fox says. Kelley has made appearances in eight consecutive games out of the bullpen, often coming in to escape tight jams. In 27 innings pitched this year, the most on the team by any pitcher, the Wilmington native has allowed just three earned runs.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, come in to Tuesday’s contest having won four of their last five games and are led by a lineup that includes five starters batting .300 or better, which should provide another interesting look for the Tar Heel pitching staff.

Starting pitchers for the game are yet to be determined. First pitch is scheduled for 3 P.M.


The Carolina-Kentucky Cold War

Here in Chapel Hill, during basketball season, the motto has always been that championships are won by playing “The Carolina Way.”

A phrase coined by legendary coach and hall of famer Dean Smith, “The Carolina Way” came to be revered as a national model for how to run a successful college basketball program. Players came to school to stay in school. They played for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. Championship teams were built with integrity over the long haul. The legends knew they would be revered as local heroes forever.

The national title-clinching jumper by a freshman named Michael Jordan, Eric Montross going to the foul line with blood flowing down his forehead, Danny Green soaring over Greg Paulus for a dunk that silenced Cameron Indoor; they’re all moments that are etched in Tar Heel lore, but moments that feel oh so long ago.

The game simply doesn’t work that way anymore. Times have changed.  Nowhere will that be more evident than noon-time this Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Heard of this guy? (hoyabasketball.com)

Heard of this guy? (hoyabasketball.com)

The instituting of the NBA’s age limit kicked off the “one and done” era of college hoops, and no school has used that rule to their advantage as much as coach John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. A revolving door for the top prospects in the nation year in and year out, Kentucky is not a college basketball team. They are a professional basketball factory that churns out NBA players on an assembly line. These guys come to campus to become all-stars, not scholars, and certainly not college heroes.

This season, on the way to the top national ranking and an unblemished 10-0 record, the Wildcats have demolished opponents by an average of 30 points a game, with nobody coming closer than 10 points. Analysts can’t stop gushing about their “platoon system.” Five guys come in and five guys come out every four minutes. Of their ten rotation players, nine were high-school All-Americans. Only one player is smaller than 6’6”. Their coach claims they don’t have substitutions, just reinforcements. With a national title in 2012 and an appearance in the championship game just last season, Kentucky has proven to the nation that, for better or for worse, titles these days seem to come “The Kentucky Way.”

Five Kentucky players check in (Kentucky.com)

Five Kentucky players check in (Kentucky.com)

The Tar Heels (6-2) will come in to this matchup as huge underdogs, just like Rocky Balboa against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.  Rocky went into the fight as the champ, but he was past his prime and on the down-side of his career. Carolina will arrive in Lexington with a great past filled with history and championships, but also not quite at its peak.

Kentucky, on the other hand, comes in looking like a mirror image of Drago, a beefed-up super-human ready to crush anything in its path.

Rocky and Drago served as symbols for the United States and the Soviet Union, much as UNC and Kentucky each represent their own “way” of program-building. With the tides already beginning to shift in college basketball, Calipari and his boys are looking to validate their methods by making a statement against a Tar Heel squad that has looked shaky in recent weeks. Don’t be surprised if you catch UK’s 7 foot center Willie Cauley-Stein staring down Kennedy Meeks at tip-off by saying “I must break you.”

How Kentucky has looked so far this year (MGM)

How Kentucky has looked so far this year (MGM)

UNC coach Roy Williams came away from his team’s loss last week to Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge questioning his players’ effort level. Players lazily went through the motions on offense, often times stopping to watch as Marcus Paige hoisted yet another contested jumper from deep. Shot after shot clanged off the rim en route to shooting below 30 percent. While Coach Williams has also proclaimed this to be one of the best offensive rebounding squads he’s ever had, it’s become very clear to opponents that outside shooting is this team’s Achilles (Tar)Heel. There just simply isn’t enough shooting talent on this team.

The battle on the boards becomes crucial if Carolina’s outside shooting woes continue.  Forward Brice Johnson, coming off a 19-point, 17-rebound performance in a win over East Carolina, will need to find a way to crash the offensive glass for put-backs against a much larger Wildcat frontcourt. Even with his offseason weight-loss, Kennedy Meeks’ stamina will be seriously tested against the platoon system, so it may become crucial for UNC to find another source of rebounding off the bench, such as Joel James or Isaiah Hicks.

Marcus Paige has often struggled creating space against big guards like Kentucky’s Andrew and Aaron Harrison, however, he remains the Tar Heels’ only respectable threat from the three-point line to this point in the season.  It remains to be seen what kind of consistent offensive contributions will come from freshmen Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, but as defenses continue to pack the paint and force UNC to shoot from outside, any production they provide from outside could be the key to not only this game, but the entire rest of the season.


Brice Johnson reacts with Joel James against ECU (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson reacts with Joel James against ECU (Todd Melet)

At a time when it’s clear that college basketball has changed forever, this game between two of the top three winningest programs of all-time will be a portrait of two different eras, the old and the new. Kentucky will play at home as heavy favorites against a Carolina team that has been plagued not only by effort and the recent academic scandal, but also by a refusal to make changes to its sacred “Carolina Way.”

Even Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has adapted his style of recruiting to appeal to “one and done” type prospects in order to re-enter the national title competition after long refusing to change his own program’s once sacred ways.

The truth is, though, as we all remember, Rocky beat Ivan Drago. When he did, he won the support of the Russian crowd by declaring, in that thick Sylvester Stallone voice, that “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”

For the Tar Heels to rise from their recent dark spot, they may just need to take a lesson from the Champ. It may be time for Carolina to change its Way.


Game Notes: UNC won last year’s meeting 82-77 at the Smith Center, and holds a 23-13 lead in the all-time series between the two teams. UNC has been to 18 Final Fours (most all-time), while UK has been to 15 (T-3rd all-time). Kentucky has the most wins in college basketball history, while Carolina is 3rd on that list.



Underdog Tar Heels Take On Top-Ranked Wildcats

The No. 21 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 6-2 on the season, faces its toughest test of the season Saturday afternoon inside Rupp Arena. The No. 1 and undefeated Kentucky Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with.

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The head-to-head series between the winningest and third-winningest college basketball programs continues with the 33rd meeting this weekend.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says Brice Johnson’s dominant play on the boards will need to become a consistent feature of the team if the Tar Heels are going to take down elite opponents like Kentucky.

Johnson will need to physical Saturday (Todd Melet)

Johnson will need to physical Saturday (Todd Melet)

“We need Brice and Kennedy [Meeks] to rebound the ball like that. We still got to do a better job rebounding and boxing out. We were into it mentally. We’ve got to have that same kind of attitude every night,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams says he really got upset at Johnson for his poor play before his explosive game against ECU last weekend. But he says, at the end of the day, it’s Johnson who needs to demand more out of himself than anybody else.

“I’m getting to be old. I can’t stay mad all the dadgum time. He’s got be able to do that himself. His rebounding today [vs. ECU] was really impressive. He rebounded the ball in a crowd and didn’t act like a little wimp. He did better things defensively too. It does gnaw at me, but I want it to gnaw at him. If it gnaws at him, the results are a whole heck of a lot better,” Coach Williams says.

One talented player who still appears to be waiting in the wings is sophomore Isaiah Hicks. Coach Williams says he needs more from the 230-pound forward.

“I think he [Hicks] listened when I was telling those guys on the bench that we don’t need big guys to shoot jump shots. He took the ball to the basket. We need Isaiah to be a big-time player for us,” Coach Williams says.

Many have discussed the possibility of a smaller UNC starting lineup that would include two de facto point guards – Nate Britt and Marcus Paige. Would the Tar Heels ever consider such a lineup?

Assistant coach C.B. McGrath doesn’t rule it out.

“We talk about all those kind of things. Whether Nate’s played well enough to go into the starting lineup and move Marcus to the two, I don’t know. If the game’s on the line, Nate’s playing well and Marcus is shooting the ball, we’ll probably have Nate and Marcus in the game at the same time,” McGrath says.

Coach Williams isn’t opposed to applying the heat to his players. He’s continually called out the big men on UNC’s roster, pleading for them to step up.

“I’ve said the big guys have to step up. When they step up and be really big-time players, we’re really a good basketball team. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, but heck, it’s college basketball at the highest level. If you want to be good, your best players have to step up and play,” Coach Williams says.

John Calipari and Cauley-Stein (Chris Reynolds)

John Calipari and Cauley-Stein (Chris Reynolds)

The Tar Heels will definitely have their hands full against UK head coach John Calipari’s uber-talented roster that rivals an NBA team for size and length.

Coach Calipari has so much depth he employs a ‘platoon system’ that consists of shuffling alternate lineups on and off the floor to wear down opponents and get all of his potential NBA draft picks a chance to shine for scouts.

UNC junior forward Brice Johnson says juggling final exams doesn’t make the preparation any easier, but he’s confident his teammates will be fired up for the showdown Saturday.

“I have all week to prepare for these tests, and we have all week to prepare for Kentucky. We just have to even them out as much as we can, but put a little more into the academic side than the basketball side. By Saturday, we’ll be ready for it,” Johnson says.

UNC leads the all-time series 23-13 and won the most recent encounter, 82-77, in 2013.

But this time around, the up-and-down Tar Heels will be playing a part they’re not too familiar with – as heavy underdogs against the near-consensus national championship pick.


Meeks, Defense Dominate As Tar Heels Handle Davidson

It may be early in the season, but the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s defense already has the makings of being something quite special.

It sure looked that way on Saturday afternoon as the No. 6 ranked Tar Heels handled Davidson 90-72. at Time Warner Cable Arena.

UNC improved to 3-0 by holding the Wildcats to a shade below 34 percent shooting overall and taking a double-digit lead in the first half that was never really threatened by Bob McKillop’s team, which fell to 2-1.

“I thought it was our best defensive game of the season,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams says. “I was very pleased with their effort.”

Coach Williams reacts (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams reacts (Todd Melet)

Peyton Aldridge sizzled in the early going, however, netting eight of his game-high 25 points in the first 4:15 of the contest as the ‘Cats took a 12-7 lead.

The Tar Heels then started to exert command, going on an 8-0 run punctuated by a Marcus Paige layup and Theo Hinson dunk for a 15-12 advantage.

Jordan Barham’s layup brought the Wildcats within 18-16 near the midway point of the opening half, but the Tar Heels went on a 28-16 run to take a 46-34 lead into the break.

Kennedy Meeks was the key component to the Tar Heels success, dominating down low with three layups in the stretch while the Wildcats settled for mostly outside jumpers.

Meeks had a monster game in finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals and two blocks. He was joined in double-figure scoring by Justin Jackson (18), Marcus Paige (13) and J.P. Tokoto (10).

Jackson says defense came first, despite his individual scoring outburst.

“Our biggest thing was to cover the three-point line since that was their game plan,” Jackson says. “We kept after it and didn’t pay attention to the scoreboard either.”

Aldridge had little help from his Wildcats teammates as Tyler Kalinoski dropped in 12 points but shot just 4 of 18 from the field. Fellow guard Brian Sullivan really struggled, missing all eight of his three-point attempts.

The Tar Heels maintained a double-digit lead throughout much of the second half, despite Aldridge’s terrific shooting. He drilled  a pair of consecutive treys to bring Davidson within 52-44 about five minutes into the second half.

It was all UNC from there, with a Paige three-pointer and Jackson jumper making it 61-46 with 12:16 remaining. Williams was able to draw from his reserves in the closing minutes, as 12 Tar Heels saw action.

Nate Britt, who scored five points in 14 minutes said it’s important everyone contribute for the Tar Heels to continue being successful.

“I think the most impressive thing about our team so far is how much depth we have,” Britt says. “We have a lot of people who can play a lot of different positions.”

And play those positions well too, judging by the early results. Next up for the Tar Heels comes a game against Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas starting Wednesday.