How UK and North Carolina match up

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2011 

Kentucky's Darius Miller, right, reached in to steal the ball away from North Carolina's John Henson during the Tar Heels' 75-73 victory over the Cats on Dec. 4 in Chapel Hill. Kentucky will have the revenge motive for Sunday's game, with the winner advancing to the Final Four.

Point guard

Brandon Knight has made only 13 of 38 shots in this NCAA Tournament, but he's making up in quality what he might lack in quantity. Despite the misfires, which include 4-for-15 shooting from three-point range, he's made game-winning shots in the final seconds against Princeton and Ohio State. Both showed his steely nerve would not be affected by shooting struggles earlier in the game. Kendall Marshall is the feel-good story for this North Carolina season. After Larry Drew departed, he became UNC's point guard. By making the All-ACC third team, he became the first freshman to make an All-ACC team since 2007. He needs 14 assists to tie UNC's freshman record. He's had double-digit assists in five of the past nine games.

Advantage: Kentucky. Knight is the better scorer and defender.

Shooting guard

Since spraining an ankle against Alabama in the SEC Tournament, Doron Lamb hasn't been nearly as productive. He's failed to reach double-digit points in the past four games, which is the longest he's gone this season without scoring at least 10 points. In that span, he's made nine of 23 shots. Dexter Strickland, who was born in Newark, completes a matchup of homegrown players (Lamb is from Queens). Strickland isn't a dynamic scorer (7.4 ppg), although he did chip in with 13 against Washington in UNC's second game in this tournament.

Advantage: Kentucky. Lamb seems more likely to bust out in a big way at any time.

Small forward

Darius Miller was UK's hottest player down the stretch of the regular season. He scored double-digit points in a career-high 10 straight games, averaging 15.9 points in that span. He took big shots. He defended. He became an animated, if not fiery, presence on the court. Defenses surely noticed. Against West Virginia and Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament, Miller made only three of 13 shots and averaged 8.5 points. Harrison Barnes carried the weight of the outsize expectations that go with being a McDonald's All-American. And it showed early on. But he's scored double-digit points in 13 straight games and 20 of the past 21. He became the first Tar Heel to score 20 or more points in his first two NCAA Tournament games since Lennie Rosenbluth in 1957.

Advantage: North Carolina and Barnes, the ACC Freshman of the Year.

Power forward

John Henson's five blocks against Marquette equaled the second most by a UNC player in the tournament. Henson is on pace to become the third UNC player to average a double-double since 2000. Henson has had nine straight double-doubles. Terrence Jones hasn't been as dominant as he was in posting five double-doubles in UK's first eight games. His three-point shooting has improved lately, having made four of six attempts in the past four games. In the 16 games before that, he made only four of 26 shots from beyond the arc. Overall, Jones has made only 22 of 68 shots in the last seven games.

Advantage: North Carolina. Henson is 2 inches taller, a year older and more consistently productive.


Tyler Zeller anchors a UNC team that looks to work inside-out. He has scored double-digit points in seven straight games and in 16 of the past 17. In the NCAA Tournament, he's made 26 of 47 shots. Yet Josh Harrellson is the talk of the NCAA Tournament, having given nearly as much as he took matched up against Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger on Friday. Harrellson scored 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and defended Sullinger as well as anyone could reasonably expect. In three NCAA Tournament games, Harrellson has made 21 of 27 shots, grabbed 28 rebounds and played his role.

Advantage: Kentucky. The Harrellson story is irresistible.


DeAndre Liggins is a one-man bench for Kentucky. Since he can defend multiple positions and provide the kind of off-the-bench spark all teams desire, he's filled the role admirably. Jon Hood and Eloy Vargas combined for three scoreless minutes against Ohio State. So any contribution, especially from Vargas against the tall Tar Heels, would be most appreciated. North Carolina isn't the deepest team around. Because of defections (the Wear brothers and Drew), disciplinary action (Will Graves dismissed from the team) and injury (Reggie Bullock), North Carolina has eight healthy scholarship players. Leslie McDonald and former Alabama forward Justin Knox give the Tar Heels contributors off the bench.

Advantage: Kentucky. Liggins proves that depth means more than merely number of reserves who play a significant role.


Having lost 75-73 at North Carolina in the regular season, Kentucky has the revenge motive. That's worked well in earlier victories over Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in the SEC Tournament, and against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Florida in the final weeks of the regular season. As it did Friday night against Ohio State, Kentucky can make history by beating UNC for the first time in the NCAA Tournament.

Advantage: Kentucky.

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