Terrence Jones had seen enough. More accurately, he actually hadn’t seen enough at all, at least not from close friend and running mate Doron Lamb.
So Jones retreated to the Kentucky locker room at halftime with the Cats trailing North Carolina by five and delivered a message to Kentucky’s most proficient shooter.
“I told him at halftime that if we were going to win he would be the one to help us do it and knock down some shots for us,” Jones said. “When it’s your time Coach will put the ball in your hands. I told him he’d be the one to change the game.”
Lamb clearly got the point.
The sophomore guard shook of a two-point first half and came alive midway through the second half to prod the top-ranked Cats to a scintillating 73-72 victory over No. 5 North Carolina in Rupp Arena. Lamb, who was mostly invisible through the game’s first 29 minutes, scored 10 points in a span of seven minutes – including back to back three-pointers – to give the Cats the lead for good.
“He’s a very explosive scorer so we know we can count on him at any time to bust open,” senior guard Darius Miller said. “We expect that from him. We talked to him about being more aggressive than he was in the first half and he did a great job at one point of just taking over the game.”
Lamb began his takeover with a bucket in transition and an awkward-looking drive and flip that banked in and pulled UK even at 56 with 10:35 remaining. After the two teams traded the lead over the next few minutes Lamb twice found a sliver of space beyond the arc for a pair of dagger three-pointers that gave the Cats a 69-66 lead with 3:46 left in the game.
“Those two threes were big,” freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. “Huge.”
Lamb had been criticized by Kentucky coach John Calipari before for too often drifting through long stretches of games, but the coach knew the Cats could not defeat a hot-shooting Tar Heels’ squad without the sophomore guard having a major hand in doing so.
“In the second half, I put the ball in his hands saying, ‘Let's go,’” Calipari said. “He did a couple lay-ups. He had a couple threes. They were big shots. That one in the corner was a huge shot. He knocked it down.”
When Lamb finally broke out he teamed with Miller, Kidd-Gilchrist and even freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer to out-do a North Carolina team every bit as talented as Kentucky.
“The second half was the story of Lamb, Miller and Gilchrist,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I thought all three of those kids hurt us. Darius inside. Gilchrist taking the ball to the basket and rebounding it. Lamb made two big shots back to back. Those guys made big-time plays down the stretch.
“Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) was unbelievable,” Calipari added. “He is unbelievable.”
As Calipari noted after the game there was no shortage of brilliant performances by both teams, but Lamb learned once again just how important he is to the Cats’ success.
“He makes it a lot easier for the rest of us,” Miller said. “Everyone knows how good a scorer and shooter he is so when he plays like he did then it makes it easier on everyone else.
“He came up with clutch buckets when we needed them.”