Coming into the game against the #21 North Carolina Tar Heels, the Kentucky Wildcats were 10-0. They had won every game they’d played by at least 10 points. Their defense was stifling, hardly allowing teams to get over 20 points in any given half. And yet, despite all of this, there seemed to be a formula out there to beat these Kentucky Wildcats that were dominating college basketball. There seemed to be one thing that could be taken advantage of that just might, if executed to perfection, could keep this group if Wildcats from reaching…well…perfection. What was that formula? The three-point shot.
Coming into yesterday’s game, the Wildcats were shooting 27.7% from behind the arch, a sad performance for a team that was utterly dominating in nearly every other category. Therefore, all teams would have to do is play zone and force Kentucky to take the threes-point shots. Crowd the paint and make them miss. Hope that their offense could overcome Kentucky’s suffocating defense enough to win the game. Well, North Carolina did that. They were able to hit shots at a 45% rate. They beat us on the boards and bullied us in the paint. They matched our depth toe-to-toe. And they played a great zone. Only problem? Kentucky hit their threes. In fact, they hit 7-15 for a 46.7% rate.
“They came out and I don’t think they hit the rim from 3 to start,” Paige said. “We were going under ball screens and play zone, but they started making 3s. That’s a tough team to beat if they start making outside shots.”
Carolina’s game plan was to force outside shots. The Tar Heels had never played zone before Saturday’s game, but tried both a 2-3 early in the game and a 1-3-1 at one point in the second half. The Cats’ shooting rendered both zones ineffective.
Aaron Harrison, he of the big 3-point shots in the NCAA tournament run, had been shooting just 22 percent from 3-point range this season but was 3-for-7 against the Tar Heels. Tyler Uliskept their defense honest by making one. And Devin Booker, who has led the team in 3s this season, scored 15 points and was perfect in three attempts from behind the arc.
That means the formula to beat Kentucky — or at least, what had seemed like would beat Kentucky — has been altered.
It is the last sentence from the quote above that should scare college basketball. If it’s true, then go ahead and crown us now. There is no one that can touch the Kentucky Wildcats if the threes are falling.