Published on December 3rd, 2011 | by Mark Travis, Founder0
Barnes Comes Up Small In Big Game Against Kentucky
As a high school senior, Harrison Barnes wowed NBA scouts while playing for Team USA at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit. Not only were his physical tools impressive (six-foot-eight, 210 pounds) but his poised was far better than you will see in most 18-year olds. With Team USA down 74-62 entering into the fourth quarter, Barnes led the team back to win 101-97.
Barnes finished with a team high 27 points on nine-of-17 shooting (four-of-eight from three) and seven rebounds. Such a performance in what was the biggest game of his life to that point convinced many people that he was destined to be a star in the college and pro ranks. Some even compared him to a young Kobe Bryant because of his performance down the stretch.
The start of Barnes’ college career at North Carolina wasn’t as glamorous as his Team USA performance. He missed 76 of his first 100 shots, giving him a field goal percentage of 34% through his first nine games. During that nine game stretch, Barnes had an 0-for-12 game against Minnesota and UNC lost three games against Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Illinois. Barnes was called out as a bust by several folks across the country, including some who forecasted him to be a star.
However, once Roy Williams made the switch to Kendall Marshall at point guard, the Tar Heels were a much better team offensively and Barnes was finding himself in better positions to score more frequently. As the regular season came to a close, the Barnes that knew how to close out games had shown up in Tar Heel blue. Barnes had a 40-point outing against Clemson in the ACC tournament, a 24-point game against Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a 22-point game against Washington in the second round (including a three pointer that finally gave UNC the lead in the final five minutes) and a 20-point game against Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen. North Carolina would go down to Kentucky in the Elite Eight, but it was Barnes who tried to rally his team late in the game with a three and an AND-1.
With the impending NBA lockout keeping Barnes in school, UNC entered the year as the number one ranked team in college basketball. Now, rankings are all but irrelevant in college basketball but with their collection of talent, it seemed deserved and most recognized them as the best team in the sport. Barnes and the Tar Heels started off 5-0 including a blowout victory over Michigan State to kickoff the season. But in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational, the sin city’s own UNLV took down UNC while Barnes missed 10 of his 16 shot attempts. The loss would drop North Carolina to #5 in the country but they’d rebound with a close 60-57 win over #7 Wisconsin in the ACC-Big 10 challenge and Barnes contributed 20 points in the win.
Yesterday, the Tar Heels were given another big challenge: go into Rupp Arena and beat the team that took your spot as the #1 ranked school in the country.
Despite the ranking, the Tar Heels came into the game as the more experienced team, as will always be the case for Kentucky’s opposition, and they were playing a Wildcats team that has yet to find their niche as a ballclub; Yes, they were, 7-0, but athletes will win you games against inferior competition. If North Carolina played their game, they’d be able to beat a Kentucky team that is still somewhat undisciplined and without an offense flow.
But they weren’t able to do that. Despite shooting the lights out from beyond the arc (61.1% from three on 18 attempts), a four-point lead with nine minutes left in the game and possession of the ball down one with 20 seconds left in the game, the Tar Heels weren’t able to take down the Wildcats. Because after hitting a three at the 3:20 mark to make it 69-67 Kentucky, Harrison Barnes was nowhere to be found.
Barnes had struggled all game against Kentucky’s athletes. Barnes has never faced players as tall and athletic as him before and it was clear that he had trouble getting his shot off against them. Barnes was five-of-12 from the field in this one and though he hit four three’s, they were all on spot-up situations. When the Tar Heels needed their star player to create something, he couldn’t do it. Barnes struggled just as much defensively as Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist constantly beat him to the basketball on rebounds.
Barnes was certainly prevented from making big plays in this game because of foul trouble, but one of the reasons he was in foul trouble was because he had trouble staying with Kentucky’s aggressive forwards. Barnes had just two rebounds in 24 minutes while Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones and 11 and seven, respectively. In such a big game against players projected to go just as highly as him in the NBA Draft, you’d hope for Barnes to come out and match their production. But instead, he seemed overmatched. He seemed overcome by the environment. And he seemed like his old self – the one that started off last season inauspiciously. Barnes will have a ton of good games this season but unless he gets another shot at Kentucky in the tournament, his impression on NBA scouts won’t be favorable when compared to the Wildcats’ multiple lottery talents.