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CHAPEL HILL — Gratitude couldn’t have been the prevailing emotion as North Carolina coach Hubert Davis went through the postgame handshake line during the weekend, moments after Kentucky’s comprehensive beatdown of the Tar Heels became complete in Las Vegas.
But nevertheless he said he made it a point to express a degree of thanks to Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“I shook hands with Coach Calipari and I thanked him,” Davis said. “I said I appreciate that you guys played this well, because you put us in a position to be the team that we need to be.
“You can’t walk away from this game at all and not be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘We’ve got to be better.’ You just can’t.”
North Carolina’s first chance at taking a step in a better direction comes Tuesday night against visiting Appalachian State (6-6), the final non-conference game on the schedule for the Tar Heels (8-3), before Atlantic Coast Conference league play cranks up in full.
North Carolina dropped to 1-3 against ranked teams this season by way of the 98-69 pounding it received from Kentucky on Saturday — the Wildcats moved up one spot to No. 20 in this week’s new poll — and the Tar Heels might not play another Top 25 opponent until February, given the middling state of the ACC.
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The matchup with Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic unraveled into a disaster in the Nevada desert, leaving North Carolina to digest the program’s most lopsided loss in 10 seasons and worst rebounding deficit in 12 years. Power forward Armando Bacot likened the blowout to a reality check and motivator for the Tar Heels.
“It gives us a little bit of perspective on how much better as a team we’ve got to be to get to where we want to be,” said Bacot, whose 22 points and 10 rebounds topped North Carolina’s contributions against Kentucky.
Davis, the first-year head coach, watched the final minute of Saturday’s debacle wearing a resigned expression with his hands stuffed in his pants pockets. The Tar Heels trailed by 18 points in the first half and fell behind by 35 in the second half, the largest deficit they’ve faced in 12 seasons.
“I thought the guys would be motivated with the success we’ve had over the last month,” Davis said, referring to the five-game winning streak his team carried into the Kentucky game, “and it would light a fire inside of us to work harder, to be tougher, to build it up. We had a really wonderful opportunity (Saturday). Win or lose, we had a wonderful opportunity.”
Armando Bacot records his 7th double-double of the season. pic.twitter.com/2QuIM46V77
— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) December 19, 2021
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Kentucky piled up more points (98), field goals (39), rebounds (44) and offensive rebounds (17) than any of North Carolina’s opponents this season. Kentucky dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Tar Heels 44-26. Davis said the Wildcats “played with a fire inside of them after losing to Notre Dame” in their previous game.
“In order for us to be the best individually and for us to be the best that we can be as a team,” Davis said, “it’s impossible absent of effort and toughness and energy. It just can’t be. That has to be brought to the table every game.”
Appalachian State lost 92-67 at second-ranked Duke in its last game. The Mountaineers were within five points of Duke early in the second half that night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, before the Blue Devils put the game away.
Who: Appalachian State (6-6) at North Carolina (8-3)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday (ACC Network)
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill
Series: North Carolina leads 6-0, including 4-0 in Chapel Hill and 2-0 at the Smith Center. The Tar Heels won 94-70 in December 2015 in the most recent meeting between these teams.
Up next: North Carolina takes a seven-day holiday break between games before returning to action for a Dec. 29 matchup against Virginia Tech
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball: App State arrives as Hubert Davis thanks John Calipari