One of the most anticipated regular season college basketball games in recent memory came down to wingspan. That was the difference between Kentucky and North Carolina as freshman Anthony Davis got a hand on John Henson's jumper in the final seconds to preserve a 73-72 win at Rupp Arena. UNC would enjoy the largest lead for either team with just under seven minutes left in the first half as they led 34-25, and the two titans would play close throughout. But in spite of the close nature of the score there were areas in which John Calipari's team separated itself and ultimately won the game.
The biggest discrepancy could be found in the paint, where the Wildcats outscored the Tar Heels 36-14 on the afternoon. Unlike North Carolina, who scored 45.8% of their points from beyond the arc, the Wildcats were able to consistently attack the basket and scored 65.8% of their points on two-point baskets. Terrence Jones (14 points, seven rebounds) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 points, 11 rebounds) were two of the key factors in this department, with Kidd-Gilchrist successfully attacking Harrison Barnes off the dribble on multiple occasions.
"At the 12-minute timeout I told them who was doing the scoring for them and it was Teague and [Kidd-] Gilcrhist and the guys taking the ball to the basket so our defense had to get stronger," said UNC head coach Roy Williams. "You look at the stat sheet and (Kentucky) shot 56 percent in the second half but they were a little more patient with it than we were."
North Carolina's biggest weapon on the offensive end was the three-point shot as they made 11 of their 18 attempts. Four players made those 11 shots with Harrison Barnes (14 points) and P.J. Hairston (11) leading the way with four and three made bonus shots respectively. But the Tar Heels didn't attack the rim nearly as much as Kentucky throughout the course of the game, and that posed some issues as the game wore on. Doron Lamb woke up from his slow offensive start to score 12 of his 14 points in the second half to help lead the Wildcats, and he simply began to make better decisions after a slow start was amplified by four turnovers.
"I thought in the second half, I put the ball in his hands saying, 'Let's go down'," said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. "He [had] a couple layups. He had a couple 3s. They were big shots. That one in the corner was a huge shot. He knocked it down."
The question now is what the two teams need to do in order to position themselves for a possible rematch down the line. North Carolina displayed a level of toughness some wanted to see in the aftermath of their loss to UNLV, and the young Wildcats turned the ball over just nine times with Marcus Teague having just one. While there are definitely issues for both to work out, and there will be a large number of challengers for the national title, it isn't unrealistic to think that these two could meet again this season with a lot more on the line.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Marquette picks up a good win at Wisconsin despite personnel "limitations".
Before the game it was learned that head coach Buzz Williams suspended junior point guard Junior Cadougan for a violation of team rules. Add to that the foul trouble that Jae Crowder had to deal with and there would be little chance of Marquette leaving Madison with a win, right? Wrong. Darius Johnson-Odom scored 17 points and Todd Mayo added 14 off the bench as the Golden Eagles beat in-state rival Wisconsin 61-54.
How did Marquette get it done? Defense and toughness, as they limited the Badgers to 32% shooting from the field (35.4% on twos and 26.3% on threes) and controlled the boards to the tune of a 44-32 advantage. The numbers weren't pretty but Marquette won by attacking Wisconsin on both ends of the floor, and there were a number of players who contributed to the effort. Buzz Williams' teams will make opponents fight for every inch of space, and that's a big reason why this group is capable of being a player in the Big East race.
2. Down 19 at one points in the second half, Xavier storms back to beat Purdue.
It was absolutely ugly for Chris Mack's Musketeers in the first half as they turned the ball over 18 times and trailed Purdue 33-22 at the break. Things would get worse before they got better in the second half as the Boilermakers led 55-36 with 10:44 remaining, but Xavier's "never say die" attitude resulted in a comeback for the ages. Tu Holloway made up for a rough 30 minutes with some impressive pressure shot-making and Xavier limited Purdue to 37.9% shooting in the second half on their way to the 66-63 win.
Matt Painter's team wasn't helped by the fact that Robbie Hummel had to deal with leg cramps down the stretch, and his absence in the final seconds was apparent as the team struggled to fine a good look for Ryne Smith. Holloway would lead four Xavier starters in double figures with 21 points, and there may not be another player in the country who can not only take the big shots but embrace the pressure that comes with them. He and Mark Lyons form the kind of backcourt that can lead a team deep into the NCAA Tournament, and their aggressive nature makes them a handful for whoever the Musketeers face.
3. A power outage seemingly robs UCLA of their energy as they fall to Texas at home.
Late in the first half the LA Sports Arena lost power, and with UCLA leading by double figures this was the worst possible time for a team of shaky temperment to have to leave the court. Of course after the break Texas would outscore UCLA 9-4 to end the half, and Rick Barnes' team kept the ball rolling in the second half on their way to a 69-59 win. J'Covan Brown scored 22 points and Myck Kabongo added 13 points and eight assists in leading the comeback, but the soap opera that is UCLA Basketball added another unfortunate chapter on Saturday afternoon.
Reeves Nelson was benched the entire second half due to a missed defensive assignment, and outside of Lazeric Jones (21 points) and Travis Wear (13 points) the Bruins didn't get much done offensively. While Texas shot 54.7% from the field UCLA limped to the finish shooting at a 38.6% clip, and they struggled to keep the Longhorns off of the offensive glass as well (Texas' offensive rebounding percentage: 48.0%). With just one win over a Division I opponent it's extremely difficult to see UCLA contending for a conference championship with the current level of play, regardless of how weak the Pac-12 has been.
4. Charleston's late-game execution ultimately results in a double-overtime victory.
With 21 seconds remaining Bobby Cremins' team trailed visiting Chattanooga 65-61, and the Mocs looked to be a decent bet to pick up their first SoCon win of the season after dropping their league opener. But College of Charleston refused to lie down, and in coming back the Cougars played smart basketball in eventually forcing overtime. Andrew Lawrence scored five of his career-high 25 points in the final ten seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime, and the Cougars would ultimately take advantage of the second chance in winning 87-85 in double overtime.
Anthony Stitt came off the bench to score 20 points, and Trent Wiedeman (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Antwaine Wiggins (14 and 12) both posted double-doubles to back up Lawrence. The result dropped Chattanooga to 0-2 in SoCon play, and that's exactly the start that the Mocs were hoping to avoid given their status as the preseason favorite in the North Division. But execution is critical in games such as this one, and Charleston's ability to play smart basketball without panicking is why they were able to come back.
5. Tulane moves to 9-0 with a win over Georgia Tech, but how good are they?
You never want to discount a team's 9-0 start to a season, especially when that team has struggled as much in recent years as the Tulane Green Wave. But even with Ed Conroy's team off to a 9-0 start with their most recent outing being a 57-52 win over Georgia Tech, there remain questions about Tulane due to a strength of schedule that ranks 342nd nationally. Ricky Tarrant picked up the slack for leading scorers Kendall Timmons and Josh Davis with 24 points on Saturday, and on the season four players are averaging double figures in scoring.
Tulane shot just 31% from the field against the Yellow Jackets but won because of a +12 differential in points from the foul line along with 8-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Tulane likely won't overwhelm teams offensively once they get into Conference USA play but this is an improved basketball team. Just beware reading too much into the record, as the Green Wave likely won't be tested again until they visit Syracuse on the 22nd. So the answer to the question of how good Tulane is: we don't have enough information right now.
1. The development of big man Meyers Leonard has been a sight to behold in Champaign, and despite foul trouble he put up 21 points and six rebounds in Illinois' 82-75 win over Gonzaga. Leonard has added a physical dimension inside that Bruce Weber hasn't had for a couple years, and this could end up being one of his best teams as a result.
2. At some point in his career B.J. Young will be an All-SEC player at Arkansas. The freshman scored 28 points in 27 minutes off the bench, but it wasn't enough to lead the Razorbacks to a win at Connecticut as they fell 75-62. Another encouraging development for the Hogs: 27 offensive rebounds despite losing Marshawn Powell for the season with a knee injury last week.
3. Valparaiso won a thriller in their Horizon League opener as they beat Butler 77-71 in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Richie Edwards led five players in double figures with 18 points off the bench, and the Crusaders were solid enough defensively to limit the Bulldogs to 34.3% shooting from the field.
4. Mississippi State outscored West Virginia 23-10 over the final 8:02 in beating the Mountaineers 75-62 in Starkville. Arnett Moultrie led the way with 21 points and 13 rebounds and Dee Bost chipped in with 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals.
5. It was quite obvious how much Rutgers needed big man Gilvydas Biruta on the floor, as his foul trouble in the second half coincided with the Scarlet Knights' struggles in a 55-50 loss to LSU. Mike Rice's team scored just two points after Biruta fouled out with 4:49 remaining, and they had a hard time controlling LSU defensively when he wasn't in as well.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Greg Magnano (Yale)
22 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in the Bulldogs' 68-52 win over Vermont.
2. G Kevin Giltner (Wofford)
28 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in the Terriers' 83-63 win over The Citadel.
3. G Taylor Braun (North Dakota State)
30 points (9-11 FG), eight rebounds and three assists in the Bison's 84-79 win at IUPUI.
4. G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh)
31 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Mountain Hawks' 81-79 overtime loss at Cornell.
5. F Noah Hartsock (BYU)
23 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and two assists in the Cougars' 79-65 win over Oregon.