December 3, 2011

Davis block preserves Kentucky win

Anthony Davis wasn't sure he could get there.

A loose ball had popped into John Henson's hands in the closing seconds of a game at Rupp Arena on Saturday, and the 6-foot-11 North Carolina forward was dialing up a 15-foot jump shot that would have beaten the buzzer and could have beaten No. 1 Kentucky.

"I just jumped as high as I could with my arm up," Davis said. "I thought I probably would (block it), how long I am. But if I didn't, I knew I was going to try to contest it."

He got it.

Davis' block preserved a 73-72 Kentucky win against No. 5 North Carolina and served as a dramatic capper to that rare December game that lives up to the pregame hype.

"I've always said if the score is tied or it's a one-point game, then you are better off taking it to the basket," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "But not many people can block a jump shot from John Henson."

One of them was on the court Saturday, and Davis was just one of a plethora of probable first-round NBA Draft picks on the floor at Rupp Arena.

The Kentucky-Carolina matchup was billed as the regular-season game of the year, and it will be tough to top.

The Wildcats (8-0) sprinted ahead 9-3, but North Carolina (6-2) battled back to a 14-11 lead, and led for the last 12:59 of the first half. The Tar Heels led by as many as nine in the first half, by a 43-38 margin at halftime and by six, 51-45, after a Harrison Barnes thee-pointer with 17:09 to play.

Kentucky wouldn't quit.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who led all scorers with 17 points, scored five straight. Marquis Teague, who struggled most of the afternoon, made a layup with 15:17 to play that put the Cats in front 52-51.

Against the more experienced Tar Heels, Kentucky didn't back down.

"Not a lot of guys experience this type of stuff, especially coming straight out of high school," UK senior Darius Miller said. "It would have been easy for (the freshmen) to fall back or panic a little bit, but none of them did."

Carolina, too, showed its mettle in one of the most raucous Rupp atmospheres in recent memory. The Heels responded to Teague's layup with five straight points to go ahead 56-52.

Baskets became a challenge. Long, athletic defenders clogged the lane. Perimeter players clamped down defensively. The Rupp crowd roared. Seventeen NBA team representatives looked on.

"It was a big-time college basketball game," Williams said. "There were some very talented and gifted youngsters out there really playing hard. I thought two or three occasions during the game both our teams were spent physically."

Davis had something left in the tank. Doron Lamb too.

A Davis hook shot with 7:31 to play put UK back in front for good, 61-60.

Quiet in the first half, Lamb helped give the Cats some breathing room, sinking three-pointers at the 5:35 mark to put the Cats up 66-62 and with 3:46 to play to stretch the margin to 69-64.

Carolina pulled to within 71-69, though, on Henson's two free throws with 1:59 to play. An instant classic was taking shape, mostly unbeknownst to the Cats and Heels.

"In the moment, we're all focused on trying to get the win," Miller said. "We're having fun with it, but we don't really think about how good a game it is."

Not when Kidd-Gilchrist sank both ends of a one-and-one to put Kentucky up 73-69 with 1:33 to play, nor when Reggie Bullock canned a three-pointer with 47.7 seconds left to cut the lead to 73-72.

"Each possession is so crucial in games that are so close like that," said Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, who, like Lamb, finished with 14 points.

Carolina looked to have the last one.

After Teague missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Heels had a chance to win. They threw the ball to Tyler Zeller, whose 14 points tied Barnes for a team high. Jones doubled off Henson to help Davis on defense. Zeller lost the ball into Henson's hands.

Davis sprinted and stretched.

"It's funny because I do the same thing to other guys and he did it to me for the game," Henson said. "It was a great play by a great player."

Great was the word of the day. Davis' last-gasp block capped a great game.

"That was a great team we played," UK coach John Calipari said. "If (Davis) didn't block the shot, we lose the game. And both teams gutted it out, just gutted it out. This is supposed to be in March, not now. I'm exhausted."



 

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