Mark Story: Davis hits Tar Heels with his best swat

Eight games in, freshman offers shining moment

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 4, 2011 

Anthony Davis needed eight college games to create a signature moment.

In an electric Rupp Arena, Kentucky and North Carolina had done the near impossible Saturday: After a monstrous pre-game build-up, they played a contest that in intensity and entertainment value had lived up to the hype.

As the game clock ticked inside the final 10 seconds, No. 1 UK was clinging to a 73-72 lead but No. 5 Carolina had the ball and a chance to win.

North Carolina tried to feed 7-foot center Tyler Zeller, the man Davis was guarding, in the post. Instead, the ball bounced into the air — and went directly to North Carolina forward John Henson.

With around five seconds to play, the 6-foot-11 Henson rose for what appeared to be a wide-open look at a game-winning, 10-foot jump shot.

Instead, soaring as if launched from a catapult, the 6-foot-10 Davis flew through the air and snuffed Henson's jump shot.

Make it Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72. Final.

"Where did (Davis) even come from?" Kentucky forward Darius Miller asked later. "I thought Henson had a clean look at it. That was a crazy blocked shot."

In the rich lexicon of UK basketball, the play that saved victory over the Tar Heels will go down as The Block.

"I just sprinted as fast as I could and jumped with my hand as high as I could get it," Davis said. "I thought I could get to it."

Henson, North Carolina's leading shot blocker, got a taste of how the other half lives.

"It's funny, because I do the same thing to other guys," Henson said, "and he did it to me for the game. It was a great play by a great player."

As scintillating a play as Davis' game-saving block was, what was more impressive in a sense was the impact the freshman from Chicago had on the contest before the final play.

Going in, I thought the team that hit perimeter shots would win. Saturday, North Carolina buried 11 of 18 three-pointers to UK's four of 17.

Yet the reason Carolina did not pin the first loss in Rupp Arena ever on a John Calipari-coached Kentucky team (38-0) was because the Tar Heels — who boast arguably the best front line in college basketball — did shockingly little damage in the paint.

The main reason for that was Davis.

His final line, seven points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots, paled in comparison to the 15, 15 and eight he had Thursday night against St. John's.

Yet time and again, North Carolina would feed the ball to Zeller in the post only to see the senior hesitate against Davis and the threat of his shot blocking.

Those pauses allowed aggressive UK double-downs to get to Zeller. The 7-footer ended up with the same number of turnovers and field goals (four).

"They dominated us a little more in the paint than I thought they would," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams lamented.

Take out the three-point shooting, and North Carolina hit only 14 of 42 shots.

A main reason for that was Davis, who appeared to get inside the heads of the more experienced Carolina front line.

Asked his impressions of the UK freshman, Zeller said "I'm not going to comment on that."

After a moment, Zeller relented and said, "He's young. I think he's got great potential."

Tar Heels forward Harrison Barnes said Davis and the threat of his shot-blocking "affected a lot of guards, particularly. Our big guys, they got a lot of touches. Z is 7-foot, Davis is 6-10, you've got to maximize those touches."

Davis famously experienced an 8-inch growth spurt in high school after having been a guard most of his life.

The timing that has allowed him to block 36 shots in his first eight Kentucky games "just came natural," he said. "When I was smaller back then, I always got my shot blocked. It kind of made me mad. Now, it makes me just want to block everything."

In the biggest moment of the early UK season, Davis got the block that meant, well, not everything.

In college basketball it's March and April, not December, that matter.

Still, any time Kentucky and North Carolina play, winning means something.

"I'll guarantee you," Davis said when asked if the block on Henson was the biggest of his life. "It's a game-winner against North Carolina."

As signature moments for a Kentucky basketball player go, you can do a lot worse.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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