Kentucky, UNC battle like title contenders
RALEIGH, N.C. | Kentucky coach John Calipari figures the sixth-ranked Wildcats and seventh-ranked North Carolina are still sorting through what kind of teams they can be.
If that’s the case, they both will stick around long into March.
The Wildcats got a freshman program-record 47 points from Malik Monk to hold off the Tar Heels 103-100 in a Saturday thriller, the week’s only matchup of top-10 teams from the AP Top 25 . It was a glimpse of the high-level potential for both the freshman-led Wildcats and veteran Tar Heels, two teams that sure looked like Final Four favorites in Las Vegas.
“We’re still trying to figure each other out,” Calipari said afterward. “They’re trying to figure each other out . ... If we had lost that game, I’d be saying, ‘It’s December 17th, and this is who we are on December 17th against a really good team. Good enough to beat them. Good enough to lose to them. That’s who we are.
“Now my thing is: where are we going to be one month from now?”
Monk’s huge performance — capped by the go-ahead 3 with 16.7 seconds left — was so good that fellow rookie De’Aaron Fox’s 24-point, 10-assist effort went practically unnoticed by comparison.
Meanwhile, UNC juniors Justin Jackson (career-high 34 points) and Joel Berry II (23 points and seven assists in return from ankle injury) led a deep offense that ran with the Wildcats like few teams can or will.
“I mean, we were right there against one of the best teams in the country, and I guess that’s all you can take from it,” Jackson said. “I mean, we kept fighting, which is what I’m extremely proud of everybody on that team. And we were right there.”
As for poll implications, Kentucky could get a bump, while it’s hard to imagine UNC taking much of a slide after a game that will stand out even when by the time the nets come down in April.
Top-ranked and reigning NCAA champion Villanova (11-0) rolled past Temple 78-57 for its 17th straight win Tuesday night. And Josh Hart followed a 37-point showing against Notre Dame with 26 against the Owls, helping the senior push his way into the race for national player of the year.
Hoosier State battles
No. 15 Purdue and No. 18 Butler came out with wins against ranked instate foes in the Crossroads Classic. The Boilermakers beat No. 21 Notre Dame 86-81 , while the Bulldogs beat No. 9 Indiana 83-77 for their second upset of the Hoosiers in four years.
Oregon started the year at No. 4 but didn’t have Dillon Brooks early due to offseason foot surgery and started 2-2. But the No. 22 Ducks have won eight straight after Saturday’s 83-63 win against UNLV, with Brooks scoring 20 points in his first start.
Leading scorer Chris Boucher sat out with an ankle injury for the Ducks, but the Pac-12 favorite could be making its move back up the rankings.
While Monk’s performance against UNC stands out, another five-star prospect — North Carolina State’s Omer Yurtseven — made his college debut this week.
The NCAA had forced the 7-footer from Turkey to sit out the first nine games amid an eligibility dispute tied to his overseas career.
He scored 12 points in his first game Thursday night against Appalachian State, then added 12 more in Sunday’s win against Fairfield.
Yurtseven can shoot from outside and is a good passer, but he has to work on staying out of foul trouble as he adjusts to the American game.
“It’s just adapting to the system, to referees,” Yurtseven said after Thursday’s win. “I had four or five fouls, so I’ve got to keep watching that.”
Kentucky’s Malik Monk scored a freshman-record 47 points for the No. 6 Wildcats in their 103-100 win on Saturday over No. 7 North Carolina in the week’s only matchup of top-10 teams from the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.