Cauley-Stein Sparks Kentucky in 84-70 Win Over UNC
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Devin Booker and Willie Cauley-Stein each scored 15 points and top-ranked Kentucky shook off the shock of losing junior forward Alex Poythress by rolling past No. 21 North Carolina 84-70 on Saturday.
Buoyed by Poythress' pregame talk and courtside presence two days after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in practice, the Wildcats (11-0) combined depth, length and strong shooting to post a convincing win over the Tar Heels (6-3).
Booker returned from a one-game absence to make all three long-range attempts and 5 of 8 overall on a day that Kentucky shot 57 percent from the field.
Kentucky never trailed and eventually built a 19-point second half lead, though North Carolina got within 66-57 midway through as Marcus Paige (14 points) warmed up from outside. The Wildcats answered with a 14-5 run over 5:56 for another safe cushion.
Brice Johnson's 15 points led the Tar Heels, who won the rebounding battle 31-24 but found little success against the Wildcats' size.
Kentucky conquered another challenging opponent, no easy feat considering how Poythress' injury left a somber mood around the practice facility on Friday.
Players showed support for their injured teammate by wearing blue "Roar for 22" T-shirts during warmups, and Poythress entered on crutches to a loud ovation before a showdown between two of college basketball's three winningest programs.
From there Kentucky answered the on-court question about the injury's effect on its two-platoon system where Poythress started on the first unit. The Wildcats used it at times but mostly went with a combination of its nine-deep group of regulars.
Lyles quickly hit a jumper and remained on the court to play with his usual second platoon mates. That unit sparked a 16-8 lead as Booker and Tyler Ulis nailed successive 3-pointers against UNC's zone defense.
That set the stage for Kentucky's 6-of-12 first-half performance from long range with Aaron Harrison joining in late in the half. He entered the game in a 2-for-12 slump but made his first shot, and his relief gave way to confidence on his next two that swished through to bring a roar from the crowd and a 49-34 lead halftime lead.
He went on to finish 5 of 9 from the field and 3 of 7 from long range. Cauley-Stein grabbed six rebounds for the Wildcats, whose bench outscored the Tar Heels 33-19.