Date story published: Sunday, December 3, 2006
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Early in the second half of Kentucky's uphill struggle here yesterday, freshman Jodie Meeks fired up a quick 15-footer.
A North Carolina defender deflected the shot short of the basket, where Kentucky center Randolph Morris stood in prime position to scoop up the tipped ball and score. One problem: Morris fumbled the ball out of bounds. Before heading back on defense, he swiped one hand on the other in frustration.
North Carolina's 75-63 victory was a what-might-have-been afternoon for Kentucky. That description fit no Cat more than Morris.
He scored a season-high 23 points, two shy of a career high, and surely would have scored more had he taken more than three shots out of the set offense in the second half.
Did UK Coach Tubby Smith want more passes into Morris?
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," Smith said, noting Morris' 11-for-12 shooting. "I'd like to see it go into him a lot more. ... He probably should have gotten five or six more shots."
It wasn't as if UK wanted to outrun Carolina and Morris couldn't keep up. The Cats succeeded in slowing the pace, holding UNC 17 points under its scoring average.
UK also more than held its own in rebounding, winning the boards 42-36 and using a collapsing defense to limit North Carolina's star center, Tyler Hansbrough, to 2-for-10 shooting and seven points.
"He showed who is the best big man in that matchup," teammate Bobby Perry said of Morris.
The problem was the Cats didn't allow Morris to dominate even more convincingly by getting him the ball.
"That's something we need to work on," Smith said. "Again, we have to have possession of the ball to get it to him."
Kentucky committed a season-high 22 turnovers. As Smith noted, it was the fourth straight game with an increase in UK turnovers.
"We kept taking ourselves out of it with careless turnovers and offensive fouls," the UK coach said. "I didn't think it was because we were playing too fast. Push-offs. Travels. Charges. A lot of that is mental. Being mentally tougher and being more disciplined to fight through the pressure and fatigue."
No. 7 North Carolina (6-1) could have been had. The Tar Heels and the crowd of 21,147 showed the effects of Wednesday's pulsating victory over No. 3 Ohio State.
"It's only the second time in my entire career that I've ever stood up and waved at the crowd, try and wake them up," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said.
Kentucky, which fell to 0-3 against ranked teams and 4-3 overall, did not shoot well when it held on to the ball. For a second straight game, the Cats did not make a three-point shot in the first half. Overall, UK shot 3-for-15 from beyond the arc against a North Carolina team that had surrendered 10 or more treys to four opponents this season. A fifth, Gonzaga, made eight of 15 shots from beyond the arc against UNC.
"Joe (Crawford) had a bunch of good looks in the first half," Smith said of Crawford's 0-for-5 three-point accuracy. "We had a few good looks. If those shots drop, maybe we get some momentum. Maybe we're not shooting enough."
North Carolina made nine of 21 three-point shots, several of which came at key moments.
When UK closed to within 41-35 early in the second half, slumping Reyshawn Terry made back-to-back threes to quell the rally. Terry, who scored a career-high 25 points at UK last season, had a season-high 16 points.
"It just happened to be Kentucky today," Terry said of his Cat-killing habit. "I didn't see it like I've got to come out and get 25 every time we play Kentucky."
Although trailing by as much as 15 points in the second half, Kentucky closed within nine twice down the stretch. A putback by Hansbrough, his only second-half basket, expanded the UNC lead to 61-50 with 3:29 left.
After two Ramel Bradley free throws made it 61-52, freshman Wayne Ellington swished a three-pointer from the right corner to get the lead back to 12 with 2:45 left. Ellington led UNC with 17 points.
All the while, Morris mostly idled. His second shot in the set offense came with 12:14 left. His third came at the 7:37 mark. Thereafter, his only basket was a meaningless dunk as the Cats broke UNC's token pressure with 26 seconds left.
"I think I got the ball within the offense," a diplomatic Morris said. "I really have no complaints."
But one of his teammates told a different tale.
"Randolph was a beast down there," Perry said. "He probably should have (gotten the ball more)."