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November 18, 2008

Thompson scores career high in win against Kentucky

CHAPEL HILL - Actress Ashley Judd kept her promise to join the UNC student-riser section for this game if Barack Obama won the state of North Carolina.

But the noted Kentucky fan probably didn't like much of what she saw.

The No. 1 Tar Heels, playing their second straight game without Tyler Hansbrough, had no problem handing the Wildcats a 77-58 defeat.

"Everybody was real intense," UNC forward Danny Green said. "We got the crowd into it and jumped on them early. Once we got up, they got a little shook, and they lost some confidence."

With Hansbrough missing just his second career game while he recovers from a stress reaction in his shin, Carolina (2-0) was looking for someone to pick up the slack up front.

It didn't take long for Deon Thompson to establish that it would be him.

Thompson scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the first half as Carolina opened up a 41-25 lead at the break.

The junior forward had six points, four rebounds, a block and a steal in his first four minutes on the floor and hit double-figures seven minutes into the game.

"Deon's playing like a monster right now," UNC point guard Ty Lawson said.

Even when he didn't have the ball, Thompson was a factor at the offensive end. Kentucky doubled Thompson at one point, and the open man for the Tar Heels was William Graves, who buried a 3-pointer to give the Heels a 20-point lead, their biggest of the first half.

"Other than Tyler (Hansbrough), Deon probably worked harder than anybody else in the offseason," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "It's good to see it transferring to success on the court."

The Tar Heels forced 28 Kentucky turnovers, including 17 in the first half.

Just like with Thompson's explosion, most of the damage came in the opening minutes to leave the Wildcats (0-2) staggering.

Kentucky had six turnovers in the first five minutes and 10 by the second television timeout.

"That was our main focus," Lawson said. "We knew if we could get pressure, they'd give it up and we could get easy baskets."

Carolina opened the game with a 15-2 lead in the first five minutes, and that advantage quickly swelled to 25-6. The Wildcats would never get closer than 11 the rest of the way.

"We were in such a frenzy at the beginning," Thompson said. "If you look at the first 15 minutes, it shows you how good this team can be."

But the rut the Tar Heels settled into the rest of the way - merely holding the Wildcats at bay, it seemed - didn't thrill their coach.

"After that, we more or less meandered around," Williams said.

Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson each had 19 points to lead the Wildcats, but both had their struggles.

Meeks shot just 5 for 20 in the game, including 3 for 9 from beyond the arc.

"We just tried to make sure we had a hand up on his shots," Williams said. "We wanted to try to hold his percentage down."

The Tar Heels' other focus was to limit Patterson's impact inside. While Patterson still recorded a double-double, even Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie lamented the fact that Patterson didn't have as big an impact as Thompson, noting that Patterson grabbed only two offensive rebounds.

"He has to get seven of them like Thompson did," Gillespie said.

Thompson might have to step up his game even more, even when the Tar Heels get Hansbrough back.

That's because freshman forward Tyler Zeller went down hard in the final minutes, landing on his left wrist. He was in obvious pain and was taken to the hospital for X-rays after the game.

"It doesn't look good," Williams said. "He really felt a lot of pain."


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