ACC Basketball: North Carolina 60, Wisconsin 57
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL — Harrison Barnes scored 10 of his 20 points during the decisive second-half surge to help No. 5 North Carolina rally past No. 9 Wisconsin 60-57 on Wednesday night.
Tyler Zeller added 12 points for the Tar Heels (6-1), who had to show plenty of fight and toughness to outlast the Badgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Coming off its first loss of the season, North Carolina trailed by five points midway through the second half before going on an 18-5 run that finally put the Tar Heels ahead for good.
Barnes was critical in that run, knocking down two 3-pointers and a jumper. But on a night when their fast-paced attack rarely got out in transition, the Tar Heels only fought off Wisconsin (6-1) after stringing together enough defensive stops and getting enough defensive rebounds to aid their struggling offense.
For the Badgers, almost everything went to plan except for the outcome.
They made the Tar Heels work for their shots. They repeatedly made them defend into the final seconds of the shot clock. And coach Roy Williams grew so frustrated at one point in the second half that he ripped off his suit jacket and yelled at his players.
But North Carolina — which despite the NBA potential on its front line had been outrebounded three times this season — responded by controlling the boards behind John Henson, who finished one shy of a career-high with 17 rebounds.
Jordan Taylor had 18 points to lead Wisconsin, which held North Carolina to 42 percent shooting. That included a 6-minute scoreless stretch in the first half, but the Badgers didn’t fare any better (36 percent) and couldn’t knock down the 3-point shots that would have brought even more tension to the blue-clad crowd.
Wisconsin, which came in shooting 47 percent from 3-point range, missed 20 of 28 shots from behind the arc. North Carolina also shook off its struggles at the foul line by hitting 16 of 18 free throws in the second half.
North Carolina was coming off a loss to UNLV in the Las Vegas Invitational over the weekend, which also included Barnes playing 30 minutes despite spraining his right ankle in the first half. He missed Monday’s practice and Williams didn’t sound sure Barnes would be ready for the Badgers, though Barnes made it through a full practice Tuesday evening and was back in the starting lineup to spark the Tar Heels’ sluggish offense.
Things won’t get easier for UNC. Next up is Saturday’s trip to Kentucky, which replaced North Carolina at No. 1.
NEW NO. 1
Speaking of the Wildcats,coach John Calipari said his freshmen are “oblivious” to what it means being ranked No. 1 in the country.
However, with the Wildcats atop the poll for the first time in nearly two years, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis are about to experience it firsthand.
“I’ve never been in this position. It’s pretty exciting just to know that you’re No. 1,” Teague said. “But you’ve still got to come out to perform.”
The Wildcats (6-0) returned to No. 1 for the first time on Monday since a one-week stint in the 2009-10 season, but Calipari has been starting three freshmen and two sophomores who weren’t around the last time the program was at the top.
“I said (to them), ‘I want you to understand, it’s not a burden, it’s a badge of honor,” Calipari said. “That’s what it is. And playing here, this is what you’re trying to attain. It’s not when we want it, but we’re there.”
The last few times, the stay at No. 1 was short-lived.
The top-ranked Wildcats lost to South Carolina in 2009-10 and Marquette in the 2003 NCAA tournament regional finals.
“It’s an honor, but it’s November,” Davis said. “There’s not really much that we can do. We’re not even halfway through the season.”