NEW YORK (AP)—John Wall has played nine games for Kentucky. His latest was his best—and the end of this one showed the freshman guard is as good as advertised.
Wall scored a season-high 25 points, including 12 of his team’s last 15, and the fourth-ranked Wildcats beat No. 14 Connecticut 64-61 on Wednesday night in the SEC/Big East Invitational.
“He’s phenomenal, one of the best players out there,” Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson said. “If we need a crunch-time basket we give it to John and we know we are going to have the advantage. Pretty much when we need baskets we know who to get the ball to.”
What made Wall’s performance in his first appearance in Madison Square Garden even more remarkable is that he was saddled with foul trouble in the first half before dominating the game over the final 7 1/2 minutes—even when Connecticut made a defensive switch that slowed him down for a few possessions.
“I just try to be a point guard,” Wall said. “I struggled some in the first half then picked it up in the second and led us to the victory.”
Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, considered one of college basketball’s fastest guards, spent most of the game covering and being covered by Wall.
“He’s not a freshman, not at all,” Walker said. “The ball is always in his hands and that’s good for him and his team.”
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said Wall “is no freshman. He’s a great player.”
The Wildcats (9-0) moved John Calipari closer to one of the icons at the school that has more wins (1,997) than any other program. The only coach to have a better start to his career at Kentucky was Adolph Rupp, who started 10-0 in 1931.
What Calipari was worried about after the game was how he is going to react to a season with a young team that plays great in some stretches and is downright quizzical in others.
“I’m going to look like Dick Vitale when this season’s over or I’ll be as gray as Bobby Cremins,” Calipari said. “We rode John Wall at the end of the game.”
Jerome Dyson had 17 points for the Huskies (6-2), who finished 14 of 24 from the free throw line, including 2 of 4 in the final 3 minutes.
“They made big plays down the stretch,” Calhoun said. “If we made some foul shots. We did play 40 minutes of tough basketball.”
After a first half of runs and big swings, neither team had a lead of more than five points over the final 7 minutes.
Wall, the key player as Calipari tries to lead Kentucky back after two disappointing seasons under Billy Gillispie, scored almost every way possible in his game-closing spurt.
His three-point play on a breakaway dunk gave the Wildcats a 54-47 lead with 7:16 left. Stanley Robinson, Connecticut’s skywalking forward, finally became a factor for the Huskies, scoring six straight points. When Gavin Edwards scored on a break dunk with 4:24 to play, Connecticut was within 56-55 with 4:24 to go.
Walker, who had 12 points and six assists, gave the Huskies their final lead of the game on a jumper with 1:12 left.
Wall, who was slowed a bit when Calhoun switched the 6-9 Robinson on him for five possessions, put Kentucky ahead for good on a three-point play when he was fouled hard as he drove to the basket—making it 63-61 with 30 seconds left.
Connecticut called two timeouts then went for the tie as Walker drove and there was a tip by the Huskies as well. But Walker was forced to foul on the rebound, and Ramon Harris made one of two free throws with 13 seconds left.
Edwards missed a forced 3-point attempt, and Walker couldn’t get a shot off from the corner in time after corralling the rebound.
Patterson had 16 points for Kentucky, and DeMarcus Cousins added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
There were two totally different halves played in front of the crowd of 15,874, which seemed split down the middle.
Kentucky opened the game with a 12-0 run, and the Huskies scored the next 10 points as part of a run that gave them a 26-18 lead on a drive by Walker with 6:30 left. Connecticut led 29-23 at halftime.
“We drank the poison in the first half and listened to all the hype about John Wall and our players,” Calipari said. “We go up 12-0 and they’re acting like we won the national championship, and then Connecticut makes a run as all well-coached teams do, and it’s on.”