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No. 1 UNC gets first test against Kentucky

No. 1 UNC gets first test against Kentucky

No. 1 UNC gets first test against Kentucky

Although North Carolina survived its first test without Tyler Hansbrough, Kentucky would figure to pose a tougher challenge. Then again, the Wildcats probably figured they'd avoid a loss in their season opener.

The top-ranked Tar Heels seek to improve to 2-0 without the reigning national player of the year Tuesday when they host a Kentucky team looking to recover from a stunning defeat.

Hansbrough has missed more than two weeks of practice with a stress reaction in his right shin. The 6-9 forward may return soon, but Tar Heels coach Roy Williams announced Monday that he definitely will not play against Kentucky (0-1).

In Saturday's season opener against Pennsylvania, the Tar Heels (1-0) showed they're capable of thriving without Hansbrough. Seven-foot freshman Tyler Zeller started in Hansbrough's place and scored 18 points to lead six North Carolina players in double figures. Junior forward Deon Thompson added 17 points while freshman Ed Davis had 10 points and 14 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.

With Hansbrough not yet ready to play and senior Marcus Ginyard still recovering from foot surgery, Williams had to use Zeller and Davis more heavily than he might have hoped, but the first-year players proved up to the task.

"I think they approached it a lot better than I thought they would do,'' said senior forward Danny Green, who had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. "I never thought we'd have so many guys out hurt, but we do. They're playing a lot of minutes and stepping up. ... Thankfully, it just naturally comes to them.''

On Tuesday, North Carolina's biggest challenge without Hansbrough may be at the defensive end, where the Heels will need to find someone to contain Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson. In last season's meeting between the teams in Lexington on Dec. 1, Hansbrough was able to get Patterson into foul trouble but the Wildcats' sophomore star still finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. The Tar Heels won the game 86-77.

"Last year, Tyler was great in guarding Patrick Patterson," Williams said. "No one else guarded him worth a flip."

The victory last December gave North Carolina a 20-10 edge in the series between these programs, which are the two winningest in NCAA basketball history. The Tar Heels have won three of five meetings in Chapel Hill, and four straight overall against Kentucky.

Patterson averaged 16.4 points per game as a freshman but managed less than half that in Friday's opener, scoring eight points and attempting only four shots from the field as Kentucky fell 111-103 at home to VMI - a program which hasn't had a winning season in 11 years.

Sloppiness plagued the Wildcats, who turned the ball over 25 times while suffering a shocking upset for the second straight November. They lost Billy Gillispie's second game as coach, 84-68 to Gardner-Webb on Nov. 7, 2007.

After this season's disappointing opener, Gillispie realizes venturing into Chapel Hill could be a tall order.

"We are going to go over there and see if we can improve," he told the Wildcats' official Web site. "We have to get better. Every single player has to get better. We have to coach better. We have to do everything better. That's what you do at this time of the year especially. I am certain that we will."

Junior guard Jodie Meeks was a big bright spot for Kentucky on Friday, scoring 39 points to nearly double his previous career high of 21. Meeks missed last season's matchup with the Tar Heels, and had only two points in 10 minutes against them as a freshman in a 75-63 loss Dec. 2, 2006 at Chapel Hill.

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