by Ray Floriani
NEWARK, NJ - Kentucky is Final Four bound and headed to Houston. The Newark Regional final gave us another classic forty minutes of drama and capped off a great weekend at the Prudential Center. The Wildcats outlasted North Carolina 76-69 on Sunday to advance.
The pace and efficiency:
The tempo was more in line to North Carolina’s favor. The Tar Heels are a low seventy possession club while Kentucky is in the low to mid sixties. Regardless, a little quicker tempo was not detrimental to the Wildcats. The Four Factors:
Kentucky came out the aggressor. Probably surprising their opponents a bit as they looked to run. It was all part of a plan to establish a good start. As senior center Josh Harrellson said, “...the first four or five minutes set the tone for the game. We wanted a good start...“ They got it as the Wildcats had a 9-4 lead at the 16 minute mark. Both teams had 7 possessions so the ‘first four’ efficiency read:
Kentucky was not planning to get into an all out transition game. Coach John Calipari always made sure their was good spacing, to prevent quick opposition outlets and transition, by the Wildcats on any shots. Calipari knew Carolina would get breaks, he just wanted to limit the damage done. UNC scored 12 points in transition. From Kentucky’s viewpoint. Mission accomplished.
The Kentucky defense was had an above average performance. The 97 efficiency and a 46% eFG mark are exhibit’s a and B. Wildcats built a 38-30 half time lead, largely on forcing UNC into a 24% TO rate. The second half, saw the Tar Heels care for the ball a lot better with a 12% rate and only 4 possessions of giving up the ball.
DeAndre Liggins drew a starting assignment for his defense. The sophomore guard’s main task was to contain UNC lead guard Kendall Marshall, especially in not allowing him to stop him from igniting the break. Liggins did the job and on his own behalf hit a huge three that increased UK’s lead to four with just under a minute remaining.
Once again John Calipari used a short, in numbers, rotation. Eight players appeared and six logged 25 or more minutes. The Kentucky mentor said on Friday, during his UMass days the late Jack Leaman convinced him smaller rotations were the best. The reasoning was the more players you use the talent tends drops off. A limited rotation gives those players more playing time and allows them to get better.
Brandon Knight did not wait until the final minutes to be a factor. The Kentucky freshman led all scorers with 22 points and continuously hit a number of big shots. Knight was 7 of 18 from the floor including 5 of 7 beyond the arc. Knight earned tournament Most Outstanding Player accolades. Good case could have been made for Josh Harrellson. The Kentucky senior center scored 12 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and had 4 assists. His hard work battling Jared Sullinger on Friday was good a reason as any that Kentucky was on the floor Sunday.
Harrison Barnes scored 18 points and hit a succession of big shots, especially the second half, that prevented Kentucky from pulling away.
Kentucky attempted 39% of their shots from three point range. It was a case of taking what the defensive gives as Calipari noted North Carolina jammed the middle. The outside shot was there. Kentucky took it and made it, a blistering 55% (12 of 22) from downtown. By contrast, the Wildcats shot 15 of 34 (44%) from two point range.
North Carolina shot 50% (24 of 48) from two point range but was an icy 3 of 18 (19%) from three. To little surprise, Tar Heels enjoyed a 40-24 edge in points in the paint. The Top 5 Manley performers:
|Tyler Zeller, UNC||30|
|Josh Harrellson, UK||21|
|Brandon Knight, UK||20|
|Dexter Strickland, UNC||15|
|Darius Miller, UK||14|
For Zeller, another outstanding .833 efficiency per minute showing. In 36 minutes the junior forward scored a team high 21 points with 9 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Harrison Barnes wound up with an 11 efficiency. Barnes did score 18 points but was 7 of 19 from the floor.
North Carolina finishes 29-8, Kentucky is an identical 29-8 and not finished yet. Attendance was 18,278. The All-Tournament team:
Josh Harrellson, Kentucky - Tireless inside both nights.
DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky - Came up big defensively and hit the ‘dagger’ in the last minute.
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina - Explosive, played well both contests. Just could not deliver that last minute on Sunday.
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina - Effective and dangerous inside both games.
Brandon Knight, Kentucky (MOP) - Hit the game winner Friday and a number of big ones Sunday.
Predicated on defense.
Kentucky held Ohio state to a 100 efficiency and North Carolina 97. Both outstanding defensive numbers. The eFG numbers given up by the wildcats were 38% (Ohio State) and 46% (Norh Carolina). Something to keep in mind next weekend in Houston.