CBS-TVNorth Carolina showed grit against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, but the Tar Heels couldn’t overcome a 19-point deficit and succumbed to the Wildcats 68-66.

The Heels started off quickly but shortly thereafter disintegrated entirely, taking bad shots, committing numerous turnovers and failing to get back on defense while allowing UK to explode for a 28-2 run in the first half.

While the collective Carolina fanbase groaned as Roy Williams refused to call timeout during that stretch, the Hall of Fame coach gave his players the latitude to try to fix the mess on their own. And though it didn’t happen immediately, the Heels took the court with a renewed sense of purpose in the second half.

Carolina took much better care of the ball and began to assert itself on the backboards, and the Heels also got better shots thanks to feeding the ball into the post.

Williams summed up his team’s first-half performance thusly:

”We lost ourselves in the game and were starstruck early, hit a couple of shots, thinking this will be good and then they hit us in the mouth and we panicked offensively and got our tails kicked.”

But the coach also noted his club’s improved play in the second frame, and there were several clear bright spots that highlighted the comeback.

First, the team committed a relatively (for this team) low 16 turnovers Kentucky turned the ball over 21 times. And against elite guards, Carolina also received adequate play from point guards Larry Drew (six points, six assists, four turnovers) and Dexter Strickland (five points, three steals).

Senior Deon Thompson led the team with 14 points and added nine rebounds, while sophomore Ed Davis battled hard for his nine points and 10 boards.

The statistical difference in the game was due to the respective shooting percentages: Kentucky shot a not-so-hot 44 percent from the field, but Carolina hit an even worse 39 percent.

Evaluating the big picture, however, this isn’t a loss that should dampen enthusiasm in Chapel Hill. After the blowout defeat to Syracuse a couple weeks ago, the Heels have responded with a big win at home against top-10 Michigan State and battled top-five Kentucky very hard on its home floor.

Carolina now gets a week off and next will face Presbyterian at home next Saturday. To see the UNC/UK box score, click here.