CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina has been tough enough in games against elite opponents this season.
Guard Marcus Paige heated up by scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half and forward James Michael McAdoo scored 20 points as the No. 18 Tar Heels defeated 11th-ranked Kentucky 82-77 on Saturday at Dean Smith Center.
"It was crazy," said Paige, a sophomore who was 10-for-10 on free throws. "That was the most intense (this building) has been since I've been here."
Paige said he was confident the Tar Heels could navigate the rugged early schedule. This was the first of the high-profile games on their court.
"It's the first time I've experienced this," freshman guard Nate Britt said. "I had fun. ... Things have been up and down -- the two losses and the three big wins."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he liked the way his team competed coming out of final exams. He said his team's toughness might be difficult to define.
"I don't want a street fight with anybody," he said, knowing his team had a tough time rebounding at times.
The Tar Heels broke a 46-46 tie when back-to-back turnovers led to North Carolina baskets, setting the tone for a series of fast-break scores.
North Carolina made 26 of 45 free throws, and that's an area that Williams said needs to be addressed.
"We made enough (this game)," he said.
"It's tough, but it's the next guy up," Paige said. "Guys decided we had to dig in and play defense."
Kentucky's 19-12 lead disappeared on the strength of North Carolina's 18-6 run, all coming without a point from Paige, the team scoring leader whose only scoring in the first half came on free throws courtesy of Calipari's technical foul.
NOTES: North Carolina G P.J. Hairston and G Leslie McDonald remained out of action as the school waits to hear from the NCAA regarding their eligibility. They participated in the fan's "white-out," wearing T-shirts as they sat on the bench. ... These programs are two of the three winningest in men's basketball. Kentucky has the most wins (2,119) and North Carolina is third (2,097) behind Kansas (2,107). ... The teams resurrected the series, which North Carolina leads 23-13, after skipping last season. Kentucky won 73-72 on Dec. 1, 2011, in the most recent meeting, which was the 13th clash in a 12-season span. ... Kentucky has three more games before a Jan. 11 visit to Vanderbilt. All three are at home, with Belmont's visit coming next Saturday. ... North Carolina is two games into a six-game homestand, with the next game Wednesday night against Texas.