CHAPEL HILL– With UNC’s 82-77 win over Kentucky in an electric atmosphere in the Dean Smith Center on Saturday, the Tar Heel men’s basketball team improved to 3-0 against teams ranked in the top 11 of the AP poll.
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ESPN’s Dick Vitale says it’s always special when two of the most iconic and successful programs in college basketball get together on the hardwood.
“I think whenever you talk about Carolina and Kentucky; you’re talking about for example 33 Final Fours, 13 national championships, and 17 Hall of Famers. I mean, it’s unbelievable – two of the real elite programs in all of college basketball,” Vitale says.
Head Coach Roy Williams is now 8-7 against the Wildcats, including a 7-4 record while at Carolina. He says he was happy with the effort level and the balance of the Tar Heels in the victory.
“There were a lot of young guys out there that fought pretty hard on both teams I thought. I didn’t think it was the most artistic game ever, but I thought both teams played really hard. Steve [Kirschner] gave me a good stat. When it was tied at 46, our next five baskets were scored by five different guys,” Coach Williams says.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige took a while to awake from his slumber, but he put up a dominating 21 of his 23 points in the second half to guide Carolina to the win down the stretch with clutch shot after clutch shot.
“Both teams struggled a little bit from the free throw line, but this is one of the games that you just have to be a man. Coach always says it’s a man’s game. You just got to handles these. A lot of it just comes down to the hustle plays and who can make a couple plays here and there down the stretch,” Paige says.
J.P. Tokoto made some nice contributions to Carolina as well. He knocked down 7 of his 10 field goals on his way to 15 points on the night. But Tokoto credits the impressive atmosphere of the home “white-out” crowd for giving the Tar Heels an added boost needed to pull out the win.
“Our crowd tonight was amazing. I think it was the best it has been all year. That’s what we really needed tonight, having the crowd behind us cheering us on. Even when we made bad plays they were still there. It helped a lot,” Tokoto says.
Next up for the 7-2 Tar Heels is a Wednesday night showdown with a surging 9-1 Texas Longhorns squad. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. in the Dean Dome.