Mark Story

Mark Story: Tar Heels have an outside shot at Kentucky

There is a simple reason Kentucky went to the Final Four in 2011 and North Carolina didn't.

When the two men's college basketball titans met in last season's East Region finals, Carolina gave UK open perimeter shots.

And Kentucky gave the Tar Heels open perimeter shots.

Last March in Newark, UK made those outside shots.

North Carolina didn't.

This Saturday in Rupp Arena, the rematch people have been talking about since last spring is at last at hand.

It's Carolina blue against Big Blue.

It's arguably the two greatest traditions in the history of college basketball.

It's arguably the two best front lines in the 2011-12 edition of college basketball.

It's John Calipari's 37-0 record in Rupp Arena against North Carolina's revenge motif.

And it seems entirely possible it will again come down to which team can make jump shots.

Kentucky (7-0) will carry the nation's No. 1 ranking into Saturday's game with Carolina, On Thursday night in Rupp Arena, the Cats played with the top-ranking for the first time this season and handled it fine, downing a feisty St. John's 81-59 before a crowd of 24,110.

Anthony Davis, UK's elastic man of a freshman, flirted with the second triple-double in school history before "settling" for 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Terrence Jones overpowered the smaller Red Storm front line for 26 points and nine rebounds.

So stifling was the long-limbed Kentucky defense early, that St. John's (4-4) produced the following team statistical line at halftime: Eight field goals made, 10 field-goal attempts blocked and five shot-clock violations accumulated.

Afterward, UK Coach John Calipari praised his team's defense and lamented its offense. "Inept," was how he described the Cats' early-game performance.

"If we play like tonight (against North Carolina), I'll be a very sad coach after the game," Cal said.

OK, UK-UNC may have lost a tad of luster with Carolina being upset last Saturday by UNLV. Instead of No. 1 vs. No. 2, we'll have to settle for No. 1 vs. No. 5.

It's still a mac-daddy of a matchup.

In Kentucky's 76-69 win over Roy Williams and Co. in last season's NCAA Tournament, both teams had 27 made field goals. North Carolina actually had two more made free throws, two more rebounds, and one fewer turnover.

UK, however, drained 12 of 22 three-pointers. Carolina hit three of 16.

The bad news for UK going into Saturday is that Brandon Knight (five treys) and DeAndre Liggins (two, including the game-clinching jump shot) both turned pro early.

So if Kentucky's long-armed shot blocker, Davis (34 blocked shots on the season), and North Carolina's long-armed shot blocker, John Henson (23 blocked shots on the season) negate the other team's interior scoring, which squad is best suited to make jump shots?

North Carolina sharpshooter P.J. Hairston, with a team-best 14 treys on the season, tweeted that he is out for the Kentucky game with an injured left wrist.

Reggie Bullock — who missed last season's NCAA tourney meeting with UK — is 11-for-25 (44 percent) from behind the arc. UNC star Harrison Barnes is 7-for-18; point guard Kendall Marshall is 3-for-11,

Advantage, Kentucky?

The Cats have Doron Lamb, who scorched Carolina for seven treys in a 24-point effort in last season's regular-season UK loss to UNC in Chapel Hill. Lamb is 6-for-13 from outside the arc in UK's last four games.

Otherwise, the Cats have struggled from long range.

Darius Miller hit four of five three-pointers against Portland, but is 1-for-16 against everyone else this season. New UK point guard Marquis Teague is 3-for-10 in his last four outings.

"I feel like we have a good-shooting team," Miller said. "We have a lot of guys who can knock down a jumper, especially if they get it going."

Kentucky's Jones acknowledges that battling the 6-foot-11 Henson and 7-foot center Tyler Zeller will be difficult inside. "I know they block shots," Jones said. "They are big in the paint like we are. It's going to be real competitive for me and Anthony (Davis) down low."

Come Saturday, when Rupp figures to be popping with energy, the way to spot the team likely to win could be elemental.

Whoever can make outside shots.

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