No. 21 North Carolina gets close but can't catch up to top-ranked Kentucky in 84-70 loss



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LEXINGTON, Kentucky — North Carolina coach Roy Williams couldn't remember the three keys to upsetting top-ranked Kentucky after the game, so it's no wonder the Tar Heels didn't execute.

"It must not have worked, because I can't freaking remember," he said.

Williams recalled two items he scribbled on the chalkboard before North Carolina's 84-70 loss to the Wildcats, noting his team had to limit turnovers and defend without fouling.

No. 21 North Carolina (6-3) did neither well against a Kentucky team recovering from the shock of losing junior forward Alex Poythress to a season-ending knee injury in practice on Thursday.

Despite shooting 45 percent from the field (27 of 60), the Tar Heels committed 19 turnovers and 22 fouls, resulting in 24 points and 23 free throws, respectively, for the Wildcats.

Williams said Kentucky's defense played a role in his team's inability to get the shots they wanted in penetration off the dribble. And he was particularly upset with the giveaways.

"You can't do that, and one of our emphasis we put up on the wall (before the game)," Williams said. "We wanted to play them without fouling and we let them, hit (23 of) 31 free throws. We fouled them too much and they were much more aggressive getting to the basket on the drive and much more aggressive getting the ball to the basket with their big guys."

Brice Johnson's 15 points led the Tar Heels, who won the rebounding battle 31-24 but found little success against the Wildcats' size.

"They were far more superior on the defensive end than our offense was," Williams said. "I thought they dictated what we did on the offensive end with their athleticism, quickness, strength and size. We didn't do a very good job of scoring in the half court. We got some breaks and breakaways early, and got something out of break, but we didn't do a very good job offensively in the half court."

Devin Booker and Willie Cauley-Stein each scored 15 points for Kentucky (11-0), which combined depth, length and strong shooting to post a convincing win.

The Wildcats never trailed and eventually built a 19-point second half lead, though North Carolina got within 66-57 midway through as Marcus Paige (14 points) warmed up from outside. The Wildcats answered with a 14-5 run over 5:56 for another safe cushion.

Kentucky's main achievement was responding well to playing without Poythress, who spoke to the team before the game and sat on the bench.

Players showed support for their injured teammate by wearing blue "Roar for 22" T-shirts during warmups, and Poythress entered on crutches to a loud ovation before a showdown between two of college basketball's three winningest programs.

Kentucky answered the question about the injury's effect on its two-platoon system, with Poythress usually starting on the first unit. The Wildcats used it at times, but mostly went with a combination of its nine-deep group of regulars.

Kentucky's second unit sparked a 16-8 lead as Booker and Tyler Ulis (eight assists) nailed successive 3-pointers against UNC's zone defense.

Aaron Harrison joined in late in the half. He entered the game in a 2-for-12 slump but made his first three attempts to provide a 49-34 halftime lead.

"We were not playing our offense" Paige said. "We weren't screening and moving. The right guys didn't get the ball and we were rushing too much."


TIP-INS

North Carolina: Paige became the 71st Tar Heel with 1,000 career points.

Kentucky: Last season's leading scorer, Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, came out to cheers and spelled the "Y'' in Kentucky during a second-half timeout. Randle is out for the season with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

North Carolina: Visits North Carolina-Greensboro on Tuesday.

Kentucky: Plays UCLA on Dec. 20 in Chicago.

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