CLEVELAND — Kentucky coach John Calipari is used to early season learning curves for young players. Never in his 12 seasons have the Wildcats fallen behind like this.
Armando Bacot scored 11 of his team-high 14 points in the second half Saturday, rallying No. 22 North Carolina from a double-digit deficit to beat Kentucky 75-63 at the CBS Sports Classic.
Kentucky (1-5) has lost five in a row for the first time since John Calipari became coach in 2009 and is off to its worst start since the 1926-1927 season.
“I’m just so disappointed, especially the last 10 minutes of the game,” Calipari said. “I know they’re better than this. Is it just trying to make tough plays? I’ve got to watch this tape and figure it out.”
Kerwin Walton scored 13 points and fellow freshman guard Caleb Love had 11 points and six assists for North Carolina (5-2), which outscored the Wildcats 33-15 to end the game.
Davion Mintz scored 17 points – making all three of Kentucky’s 3-pointers – and grabbed eight rebounds. No Wildcats who appeared in the game were made available to the media.
Walton made two 3-pointers and scored eight points in a 9-1 game-changing run by the Tar Heels, including the go-ahead free throw at 50-49 with 11:42 remaining. North Carolina had trailed by 11 in the first half.
“I knew my time was coming, once I adjusted to the speed of the college game,” said Walton, who had six points in the first six games. “Every shot I took felt great today.”
Walton made a pair of 3-pointers immediately after Kentucky big men Olivier Sarr and Lance Ware went to the bench with their fourth fouls. Sarr, Ware and teammates Isaiah Jackson and Terrence Clarke later fouled out.
“The first half, I was very disappointed because we didn’t play tough,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “But I’m as pleased as I could possibly be with the fight we showed when we came back out.”
Wildcats forward Brandon Boston Jr. scored 15 points and guard Devin Askew had 12. A third freshman, forward Cam’Ron Fletcher, walked off the bench and openly complained after only playing three minutes.
Calipari said Fletcher apologized in the locker room, adding, “You’ve got to accept your position on this team.”
CHANGE OF PLANS
North Carolina was initially scheduled to play No. 20 Ohio State, while Kentucky was paired with UCLA. The matchups were changed Wednesday by promoter Intersport to align the opponents with the most similar COVID-19 testing protocols.
No fans were permitted to attend either game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, which hosted the annual event for the first time.
North Carolina: G RJ Davis (right knee bruise) was limited to three minutes in the second half and did not play down the stretch. Williams said the 6-foot freshman will be re-examined Sunday. … Love briefly left the game after running into an illegal screen by Sarr. He absorbed the blow on his upper body and was helped to the bench by a trainer. “I’ll feel that tomorrow,” Love said.
North Carolina played its first game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the home of the NBA’s Cavaliers. The Tar Heels last played in the city on Nov. 29, 2003 – their third game under Williams – when it won at Cleveland State. Kentucky is 5-2 all-time in Cleveland.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are 0-2 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, losing 69-67 to No. 11 Texas (in Asheville, North Carolina) and 93-80 at No. 3 Iowa in back-to-back contests. … North Carolina has completed its nonleague schedule and will play its next 20 games in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Kentucky: The Wildcats opened with an 81-45 home win over Morehead State on Nov. 25, but lost their next four games by 33 total points. . Kentucky has one scholarship player who also saw action in 2019-2020. Sophomore F Keion Brooks Jr. (calf strain), who made six starts, has yet to play this season.
North Carolina: Plays at North Carolina State in its ACC opener Dec. 22.
Kentucky: Renews its state rivalry at No. 23 Louisville in a nonconference game Dec. 26.