Heels Undone by the 3

LEXINGTON, Ky. – No. 1 Kentucky’s hot hand from 3-point range disrupted No. 21 North Carolina’s defensive game plan in the Wildcats’ 84-70 victory on Saturday.

“I told John [Calipari] we can cure a lot of people's 3-point woes,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters following the game. “They see that light Carolina jersey and everybody makes everyone of them.”

The scouting report on the Wildcats highlighted their incredible size that manifested itself through defense and rebounding. It also touched on their perimeter shooting woes (UK ranked 305th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage entering the game).

As a result, UNC’s game plan was to avoid extending its defense while throwing in a touch of zone to confuse Kentucky’s bigs. The Wildcats had other plans, however, in knocking down 50 percent of its 3-pointers in the first half (6-of-12) and 46.7 percent for the game (7-of-15).

“You would like to think that their outside shooting would be a weakness and then they came out and I don’t think they hit the rim from three to start the game,” junior guard Marcus Paige said. “We were going to go under a lot of ball screens and play zone a little bit, but they started making threes.”

UNC opened the game in its zone and forced an errant 3-point attempt, but Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein pulled down the offensive rebound and scored on the putback. Williams went back to the zone shortly thereafter only to have the Wildcats shoot UNC out of it with a pair of open 3-point makes.

“We didn’t do a good enough job in the zone,” Williams said. “We didn’t get there and guard them… Then when we went man-to-man the dribble penetration really hurt us.”

Prior to Saturday’s tip, UNC ranked 12th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (89.2) and sixth in effective field goal percentage (38.1). The Tar Heels held its first eight opponents under 40 percent shooting before Kentucky shot 56.3 percent, the highest against UNC since Virginia shot 58.5 percent on Feb. 16, 2013.

Kentucky attacked the rim from every position, saddling UNC with 22 fouls en route to making 23-of-31 free throw attempts.

“They were much more aggressive getting the ball to the basket on the drive and they were much more aggressive getting the ball to the basket with their big guys going to the basket,” Williams said.

The Wildcats turned defense into offense by scoring 24 points off 19 UNC turnovers. Kentucky was also effective on the offensive glass, rebounding over half of its misses (11 ORs) and scoring 14 second-chance points.

The Tar Heels cut their 19-point deficit to nine points with 10:22 to play. The Wildcats capitalized off turnovers and dribble penetration to outscore UNC 12-5 over the next 5:25, tallying five dunks off assists, most of which were alley-oops.

Sophomore guard Nate Britt provided insight into those defensive breakdowns.

“First, whoever is guarding the ball has to contain their man,” Britt said. “Allowing dribble penetration into the paint didn’t help. Then after that, we don’t want our bigs to help up the lane to make that available, so there were two breakdowns there which caused all of those alley-oops.”

Kentucky’s penetration and the corresponding dunks and kickouts were available due to UNC having to extend defensively to guard the 3-point shot.

“That’s a tough team to beat if they’re making outside shots,” Paige said.

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