'Cats top Heels again, 61-56

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ninth-ranked North Carolina recovered from an early eight-point deficit and led by as many as nine in the second half on Saturday. But No. 6 Kentucky took advantage of Carolina's mounting defensive problems, shooting 54.8 percent after intermission to win its fourth-straight over the Tar Heels, 61-56.

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    Consider this game as a measuring stick and you can see why UNC coach Roy Williams has shown so much concern about his team's defensive play of late.

    The Wildcats (9-1) scored 34 points over the first 11:13 of the second half, and after having committed 10 first half turnovers, they did not suffer another offensive miscue over the next 13 minutes.

    "They started making a run that built the crowd, and then [Gerald] Fitch go hot," May said.

    For the second straight game in the series between the two schools, the Tar Heels (8-2) were done in by Fitch who scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.

    Still Carolina clinged to hope throughout, and when Raymond Felton's 3-pointer cut Kentucky's lead to 57-56 with 57 seconds remaining, there remained an escape against the odds scenario for Carolina. But with the shot clock wound down to just three seconds, a 30-foot prayer by Fitch was answered on the other end -- and with Jackie Manuel and Jawad Williams waving their arms in his face.

    "Chuck [Hayes] set a great screen and I was able to get some room," Fitch said. "When the shot clock was at seven or eight, I was looking for my shot."

    Fitch was also the hero in last season's UNC-Kentucky contest, scoring 25 points in the Wildcats' 98-81 win the Smith Center.

    "The feeling that Gerald Fitch has right now is a feeling that everyone wishes they could have," Williams said. "For us, it's disheartening to say the least."

    UNC, which held Fitch to just 2-of-8 shooting in the first half, was able to guard the low post. That, along with Melvin Scott making 3-of-5 3-pointers, helped the Tar Heels to effectively take the capacity crowd at Rupp Arena out of the game in the opening period and forge a 28-20 lead at halftime.

    "I know we struggled scoring in the first half and were in a drought," said UK coach Tubby Smith, who is 4-1 all-time versus Roy Williams. "I think we were still playing cautiously."

    But Smith made his adjustments deftly, and Kentucky held Scott to just four second half points. Fitch's outside shooting forced the Tar Heels to extend their defense, enabling forwards' Hayes and Eric Daniels to feast down low. The Wildcats outscored UNC 36-24 in the paint.

    "We needed to make some big plays down the stretch and we didn't do it," said Scott, who led the Tar Heels with 16 points. "This is a tough loss, but we played a great team today in a hostile environment."

    "They were running a little harder at [Scott], in the second half," added Williams.

    Rashad McCants labored through a dreadful afternoon, committing five turnovers shooting just 2-of-7 on his way to a four-point outing. He spent large portions of the game on the bench along with the rest of the starters as Williams became disgusted with their defensive effort.

    "I'm frustrated," Williams said. "I've been spoiled rotten for the last several years. Coaching has been an easy gig, but right now I'm as frustrated as I've ever been in my life.

    "It's not talent, it's not that we can't play, it's not that we're not capable," he said. "It's just that once we really decide, ‘Okay, I'm going to do this for the good of the team, I'm going to pass up this shot, I'm going to stop this guy for the team,' then we'll be great. Until we get that, we'll never see how great this team can be."

    The Wildcats stormed out of the gate to a 10-2 lead and with the house rocking, Williams called a timeout. While it appeared Smith was content to tell his Wildcats to just keep it up, Williams was having a tirade on the Carolina sideline.

    After reinserting the starters and trailing 12-4, the Tar Heels went on an 11-0 run over the next 3:51.

    "We started out with a good run, but I knew Roy Williams' teams always make the right adjustments and they did," Smith said

    In the second half, he pulled the starters again in favor of a lineup that had Damien Price at point guard for over three minutes down the stretch.

    "He was upset with us," said May, who was held to eight points and six rebounds. "We just weren't playing, so he put in the reserves and they stopped the bleeding until we went back out there."

    "We need to come together as a team. Right now we have too many individuals and we need unity. That's the reason we lost today."

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