LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky was trailing Miami of Ohio by 18,
and for a few moments memories of November losses to Gardner-Webb and VMI came flooding back to the capacity crowd at Rupp Arena.
Maybe the only person in the entire building not worried was
Kentucky coach John Calipari. He wanted the fourth-ranked Wildcats
to be tested early in the season. Monday night was as good a time
"I was ecstatic that we got down 18 points, because I wanted to
see what we were made of," Calipari said.
Besides, Calipari had John Wall, who wasted little time making
his collegiate debut a memorable one.
The freshman guard hit a 15-foot jumper with 0.5 seconds left to
lift the Wildcats to a thrilling 72-70 victory and provide a glimpse into why he's considered a surefire NBA prospect.
Wall finished with 19 points and showed a flair for the dramatic
with his mad dash in the final seconds after Miami's Kenny Hayes
hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 70 with six seconds remaining.
Calipari considered calling timeout if he didn't like what he
saw. He kept quiet when he saw the ball in Wall's hands.
Wall collected the inbounds pass and raced down the floor before
pulling up from the wing, a shot he'd been working on recently with
Kentucky assistant and former NBA star Rod Strickland.
"It felt good to make a shot like that," Wall said. "I just
have to have confidence to make those and I did."
Wall admitted he was nervous when the shot left his hands. His
teammates, however, had no such issues.
"We scrimmage in practice and go through all those scenarios
and he seems to hit them every time," said Kentucky forward Darius
Considered the top high school player in the country when he
signed with the Wildcats last spring, Wall was forced to sit out
Kentucky's season-opening win over Morehead State last week as part
of an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from his AAU
He proved to be worth the wait.
Urged by Calipari to "go make a play," Wall responded with the
kind of heroics expected when Calipari lured him to Kentucky after
taking over for Billy Gillispie.
Though he wasn't perfect - he committed five turnovers and tried
to force things at times - Wall appeared at ease while playing on
the big stage for the first time. It's what his teammates expected
"With the hype he had, it's all true," said center DeMarcus
Cousins. "John Wall is legit. He's the real deal. There's no guard
out there better than him. I said to him after the game, 'John, you
just started your legacy."'
Miami did its best to spoil the celebration. Nick Winbush scored
26 points and made eight of Miami's 15 3-pointers.
"All I'm hearing is they've got four (NBA) draft choices and
you're asking me how it got away from you?" said Miami coach
Charlie Coles. "We came up with a brilliant effort."
One that wasn't quite enough to pull off another early season
stunner at Rupp.
Wall got plenty off help in the second half as Kentucky used its
size to overcome shoddy ballhandling and questionable shot
Patrick Patterson had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Cousins had
10 points and 10 boards for Kentucky, which outrebounded Miami
37-25 and outscored the RedHawks 32-12 in the paint.
Kentucky needed every last one of them after Miami refused to
"I've told people, these guys know how to shoot," Coles said.
"This would have been my best win."
Instead, Miami provided Wall a taste of what's to come. The
RedHawks packed in a 2-3 zone and hardly played like it was in awe
of the young guard. They bumped him when they could and nearly sent
the arena into a state of shock during a fast break midway through
the first half.
Wall was running down the wing when Eric Bledsoe attempted to
hit him with an alley-oop. Hayes jumped up to contest it, deflecting the pass away and sending Wall tumbling to the floor along the baseline in the process.
Wall laid on the floor for several moments before gingerly
walking off the court. He returned after getting a once-over from
the training staff and a little talking-to from Calipari.
"Coach sat me down and told me 'You can't do it all
yourself,"' Wall said. "When I went back in, I settled down and
just tried to make plays."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)