Kentucky's interior defense frustrates Carolina

Heels' senior stymied by Double team

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 4, 2011 

Tyler Zeller just shook his head.

When asked about North Carolina's final possession, trailing by one point with the chance to win at top-ranked Kentucky, the Tar Heels couldn't find a way to get the ball in their basket.

Zeller shook his head again when asked about the final play by a fresh round of reporters a few minutes later.

Sitting in his locker in the belly of Rupp Arena after losing 73-72, the Heels' 7-foot senior forward shook his head because he couldn't shake the feeling of losing the game in the final seconds.

"The part that hurts for me is on that last play, I let every one of my teammates down," said Zeller, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds on Saturday. "They put their trust in me and I let them down."

With less than 12 seconds to play, Kendall Marshall fed the ball down to Zeller, who had UK freshman Anthony Davis guarding him from behind.

Zeller fumbled the ball as he saw Terrence Jones come from his left side for the double team.

Eventually, the ball went into junior John Henson's hands, but Davis got his fingertips on it and blocked the potential game winner.

Zeller shook his head as he remembered the ball flying from the tips of his fingers.

"This one definitely hurts," he said. "We don't ever want to lose."

UK's post defense became the story of the second half in many ways.

It limited Zeller to just four points and three rebounds in the second half. He had 10 points and five rebounds playing the same number of minutes in the first half.

The double team was complicated to prepare for, the UNC big man said.

"They did a great job of getting there, almost before I got the ball," Zeller said. "So it was tough. Normally, you have a half a second to a second to see it coming."

Marshall credited UK's interior defense with being the difference in the game.

When asked to compare this team to the UK team that knocked the Heels out of the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight last season, Marshall said Kentucky's post defense changed everything.

"Their post defenders are playing a lot harder; they're playing a lot better," Marshall said. "Terrence Jones, he's playing tremendously harder than last year on both ends of the floor."

In the second half, UNC was outscored in the paint 20-6. For the game, Kentucky won that battle 36-14.

"They dominated us a little bit more in the paint area than I thought they would," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said afterward. "They really hurt us in the paint."

And losing a game they were so close to winning on the road really hurt the Tar Heels.

"Our kids tried," Williams said. "They're wounded badly. They're hurting in that locker room right now."

They were left shaking their heads.

Zeller looked up as he was asked if he thought UNC might meet UK again deep in the NCAA Tournament again this season.

"We hope so," he said.

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