Date story was published: Tuesday, December 11, 1990
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Rick Pitino used such words as "very difficult," "very bitter pill" and "a shame" to describe the glorious Kentucky victory that slowly slipped away last night.
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith said "lucky" three times and "fortunate" twice in describing his team's improbable 84-81 victory over UK.
"Obviously, we're pleased to win," Smith said, "and extremely fortunate to win. I think Kentucky outplayed us."
Pitino agreed after watching the Wildcats grimly hold a lead for most of the game despite serious foul trouble.
"It's a very bitter pill to swallow," Pitino said, "because we should have won. It's a devastating loss because I felt we outplayed them."
UK's defense chewed up the skittish Tar Heels for a half. Carolina committed 28 turnovers, the third time in its last four games the Heels had at least that many.
But when the fouls mounted up, UK became tentative, Pitino said. With the heat turned down a notch, Carolina's superior athleticism could function.
That edge in talent grew more telling because Pitino had to go to the end of his bench to find players.
"It's better to play aggressively with the last five than tentatively," Pitino said. "Our interior players didn't challenge people.
"I'm really proud of our guys. We played most of the game with people who don't even play for us."
An exaggeration, but walk-ons Junior Braddy and Jody Thompson did see time at crunch time, as did Johnathon Davis and Gimel Martinez.
UK led by as much as 12 in the second half, by eight with 7:35 left.
Encouraged by a Smith Center crowd of 21,572, North Carolina kept fighting. The relentlessness paid off as UK suffered its first loss of the season.
Almost inconsequentially, the Tar Heels also took a one-game lead in the all-time victory race: 1,484 to 1,483.
Pete Chilcutt's rebound basket with 1:01 left gave Carolina an 82-81 lead. It was the Heels' first advantage since 26-25 with 5:31 left in the first half.
Their three second-half timeouts spent trying to stop the slow bleeding, the Cats looked for a good shot with under a minute left. Reggie Hanson, limited to 26 minutes, badly missed a contested 10-foot banker.
Ironically, after Hanson's miss, the same Carolina team that played on the brink of a turnover all night ran the clock down from 35 seconds to one.
"Richie (Farmer) and Sean (Woods) had chances to foul," Pitino said. "They didn't go at it aggressively enough. They have to foul a little harder."
With one second left, UK fouled point guard King Rice. He made two free throws to set the final score.
Based on the first half, basketball's winningest program had seen better days.
North Carolina committed 19 turnovers and made just nine of 32 shots (28.1 percent) in the opening half. The Tar Heels coughed it up on five straight possessions during a notable stone-handed span.
Ironically, the halftime break featured a woman touting herself as a "premier ball-handler."
Turnovers aside, North Carolina labored to get anything done.
"We're going to be good," Smith said, "but we sure weren't tonight. We have loads and loads of work to do with our team."
After a slow start, Kentucky seemed to relax. Three-pointers, including three by Farmer, propelled the Cats to a 41-33 halftime lead. UK hit five of eight three-point attempts, lifting the team's first-half shooting to 45.7 percent (16 of 35).
The lead changed hands 10 times before Kentucky took charge in the final 4:33. In that span, UK outscored Carolina 14-4 to establish its eight-point halftime lead.
John Pelphrey began the run with a three-pointer. UK's next three baskets were Farmer three-pointers, two coming within 20 seconds to give UK its largest lead (41-30).
Carolina mounted a charge as the second half began. Showing more cohesiveness, the Heels cut UK's lead to 51-45. That prompted a Kentucky timeout with 15:42 left.
After UK's time, Pelphrey stole the inbounds pass. Freshman Jamal Mashburn hit a three-pointer.
Mashburn followed with two more baskets to give UK a cushion.
UK needed Mashburn because foul trouble kept two veterans on the bench. Feldhaus picked up his fourth with 16:02 left. Hanson committed his fourth foul at the 13:50 mark.
Kentucky grimly held on, even with a lineup of three freshmen (Mashburn, Thompson and Martinez), sophomore Jeff Brassow and Farmer.
Carolina closed to within seven, 58-51, at the 13:37 mark. Mashburn hit a pull-up jumper.
Carolina closed to 64-56, then Sean Woods hit his first basket of the game, his patented bank shot off the drive.
Relentlessly, Carolina came on.
George Lynch's fastbreak layup cut UK's lead to 74-68 with 5:45 left.
Pitino put Hanson and Mashburn back in the game with 5:36 left when Woods threw a pass away.
UK used its second timeout at the 4:52 mark.
The Cats third and final timeout of the second half came with 2:47 left.
Woods followed a banker that put UK up 76-71 with a turnover and a forced leaner that missed.
Carolina closed within 76-75 on Chilcutt's rebound basket and Hubert Davis' jumper.
Kentucky spread the floor and got two baskets. Hanson drove for a short flip shot.
After a Carolina basket, Pelphrey drove the baseline and scored. He converted a three-point play when Chilcutt was called for blocking trying to take a charge.
Carolina countered with a Fox three-pointer that cut UK's lead to 81-80 with 1:24 left.