CHICAGO – Kentucky is taking a marquee victory back to Lexington for Christmas this year.
Reid Travis (20) and Keldon Johnson (23) combined for 45 points to lead No. 18 Kentucky to an 80-72 win over No. 10 North Carolina.
Looking to prove itself in its first opportunity against a ranked opponent since the season-opening blowout loss to Duke, Kentucky closed the first half on a 15-5 run to take a nine-point lead into intermission. North Carolina never pulled closer than four points in the second half as Johnson came alive with 16 second-half points on 5-of-6 shooting to help Kentucky secure the win.
Tyler Herro (15) and PJ Washington (11) joined Travis and Johnson in double figures. Washington came close to a triple-double with nine rebounds and a career-high eight assists with many of those assists coming on passes to post partner Travis in the paint.
Here’s what we learned from the win.
Hagans makes a statement
While four other Kentucky players finished in double figures, freshman point guard Ashton Hagans might have been the Wildcats' most valuable player. He was credited with seven points, three assists and five turnovers, but his seven steals and three blocks were just the most obvious of his defensive contributions. Hagans led the way for Kentucky’s improved ball movement and a frustrating night for North Carolina guard Coby White, who finished the game with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Hagans sealed the victory with a steal and timeout with 15.2 seconds left as North Carolina was trying to mount a comeback.
Handling the moment
Less than nine minutes into the season opener against Duke, Kentucky trailed by 21 points with most of the Wildcats’ young players looking shell-shocked by the first real challenge presented by a team that could match their talent. With six weeks to improve since that game, those same Kentucky players looked poised early against North Carolina. Like he was against Duke, Travis was a weapon against the Tar Heels, but this time he had more help from Kentucky’s freshmen. Hagans was especially key in establishing the tone early. Herro hit an early 3, and Johnson was credited with two assists and a steal before the first media timeout.
Calipari made good on his promise to give redshirt freshman guard Jemarl Baker an expanded role, with the California native logging 15 minutes in his third appearance as a Wildcat after spending all of last season and most of the nonconference schedule this year with a knee injury. Some of those minutes can be attributed to foul trouble from Hagans and Johnson, but Baker also played alongside those two guards and contributed a rebound, assist and block. He missed all three 3-point attempts though.
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