“It’s not always going to be pretty, but I really did like how we competed,” Roy Williams said. “I was concerned about a letdown, and I didn’t think we were as emotionally into the game as we were Wednesday night. But there are not many times you can shoot 37 percent and win.”
UNC (6-1) finally broke open a close game with an 8-2 run early in the second half. But it wasnt't until after Williams pulled his five starters for lack of intensity to administer an emphatic dressing down.
Most of the 21,147 on hand at the Smith Center couldn’t hear what the Tar Heels’ veteran coach was saying, all they could tell was that he meant it.
“The basketball is rolling down the floor and we’re tiptoeing through the tulips not picking the ball up,” Williams said. “We had four guys daintily trying to get the ball. If the ball is rolling on the floor, it has North Carolina written on it.”
Perhaps no one took the tongue lashing to heart more than Reyshawn Terry, who returned to the game and quickly blocked a shot, got an offensive rebound and nailed back-to-back threes to put the Tar Heels up 47-35 with 13:11 to play.
Moments later, an alley-oop dunk by Brandan Wright electrified the capacity crowd.
“Coach just lit a fire under us. He made us go out there, play more aggressive, and dive for those balls. That made us work harder,” said Wright, who has scored in double figures in every game, and finished with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
By that point, tempo was out of UK coach Tubby Smith’s control. The pace of the game was frustrating but mostly for Kentucky (4-3), which had difficulty handling the ball.
With Carolina constantly hawking their passing lanes, the Wildcats turned the ball over 22 times to the Tar Heels’ 9. UNC’s point guard tandem of Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor combined for 10 assists against just three turnovers.
The Tar Heels recorded 10 steals for the second consecutive game.
“They’ve got a very talented and athletic ball club,” Smith said. “They come in waves but whenever you play North Carolina or anybody, you’ve got to take care of the basketball and execute – that was a major problem for us today.”
“The game plan was to control the tempo, but in order to do that you have to keep possession of the ball.”
Terry wasn’t lulled to sleep, as the senior resurrected his season with a 16-point, nine-rebound performance.
“I was really proud of Reyshawn making some big baskets for us,” Williams said. “As everybody knows, he’s been struggling lately.”
UK’s 0-for-9 three-point shooting start and 12 first-half turnovers enabled the Tar Heels to take a 31-24 advantage at halftime despite just 35 percent shooting from the floor and a 5:24 field goal drought early in the game.
Wildcats’ center Randolph Morris finished 10-for-11 from the floor to lead all scorers with a season-high 21 points.
UNC was out-rebounded, 42-36, for just the second time this season (Gonzaga).
After a break for exams, Carolina returns to action next Saturday to host High Point (3-3) of the Big South Conference.