CANCUN, Mexico (AP)—John Wall is five games into his college career and even his teammates think he’s ready for the next level.
The freshman sensation scored a season-best 23 points, including clutch shots in the final minute that sent the game to overtime, and No. 5 Kentucky closed with an eight-point run for a 73-65 victory over gritty Stanford on Wednesday night in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge at the Moon Palace Resort.
“NBA, that’s all I’ve got to say,” Wildcats forward Patrick Patterson said. “John Wall is a pro player and he wants the ball in crunch-time situations. Whenever we need a basket or something on the offensive end John is going to be the one to do it.”
Wall made a game-winning shot with 0.5 seconds left against Miami (Ohio) in his debut. This time, he hit a 12-foot fadeaway jumper from the right wing to tie the score at 61 with 30.6 seconds remaining in regulation, then two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe drained an NBA-length 3-pointer with 33 seconds to go that gave Kentucky (6-0) a 69-65 lead it did not relinquish. Wall capped his big night in style with a slam dunk at the final horn, setting off a wild celebration by Kentucky players before a crowd of 1,425.
“I think we’ve got two guys when the game is on the line they are not afraid to make plays, which bodes well for us,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “You saw once again that late in the game I’m not calling a timeout. I don’t need to be a hero, let those guys be the hero.”
Wall, Bledsoe and the Wildcats held Stanford without a field goal in overtime.
“Those two guys have the killer (instinct),” Calipari said. “What you want is the guys with the killer to bleed onto the others. Just a will to win.”
It was an ending befitting a game that was close throughout and featured clutch plays by both teams down the stretch. There were five lead changes and five ties in the final 4 minutes of regulation and overtime.
Landry Fields, who finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, was fouled by Ramon Harris during a scramble and hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to give Stanford (3-3) a 63-61 lead with 28.2 seconds on the clock.
The Wildcats opted not to call a timeout and went to freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins, who was fouled on the block. The 53.6 percent free throw shooter missed the first free throw and then the second on purpose, but fouled Stanford’s Jarrett Mann on the rebound.
Mann, a 53 percent free throw shooter, then missed both of his free-throw attempts, setting up a final flurry. Wall drew a blocking call on Andrew Zimmermann with 2.4 seconds left and calmly swished both free throws to tie it again.
Stanford’s full-court pass was batted off the backboard by Patterson and corralled by Wall to send the game to overtime.
“For such a young team, they showed a lot of poise down the stretch,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “(Wall) is one of the fastest guards I’ve ever seen play on any level. He showed a lot of poise for his age. He’s a terrific player.”
The game was marked by several long stoppages in play. Officials spent several minutes reviewing a Stanford 3-pointer and intentional foul in the first half, then a shot clock malfunction had tournament organizers searching for a ladder with 11:31 left in regulation.
Fields put the Cardinal on his back late in the first half, scoring six straight points during a late run that gave Stanford a 38-32 lead at halftime. Aided by Jeremy Green’s four 3-pointers, the duo tallied 27 of Stanford’s 38 points and helped hold Kentucky’s up-tempo offense scoreless over the final 5:09.
On the other side, Wall was the only Kentucky player to get going before the break. The freshman guard had 15 points but could not do all the heavy lifting with preseason All-American forward Patterson going out of the game less than six minutes in with two fouls. Without Patterson’s inside presence the Wildcats struggled to get anything in the paint and shot just 35.5 percent from the field.
Patterson got going early in the second half on his way to his 25th career double-double, but he missed two point-blank opportunities on the same possession that would have given Kentucky its first lead since late in the first half with just over 10 minutes remaining.
He made up for it later, using a power post move to give Kentucky a 54-53 lead with 6:42 to play.
It was only the third meeting between the schools and first since the 1998 NCAA tournament semifinals. Kentucky won that showdown 86-85 in overtime on its way to its seventh—and most recent—national championship.