- Saturday, December 5 2009 -
North Carolina - 66 (Head Coach: Roy Williams) - [Ranked 10th by AP and 11th by ESPN/USA Today]
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 5th by AP and 4th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 43, North Carolina 28
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|UNC Asheville 94 - 57|||||Connecticut 64 - 61|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Freshman guard leads UK over UNC
John Wall believed North Carolina didn't think he was good enough to wear its powder blue. The Tar Heels may feel differently now.
Wall had a sensational first half as Kentucky ran up a 19-point lead, then shook off severe cramping in the second half to help the Cats hold on for a 68-66 victory in front of a Rupp Arena record crowd of 24,468.
The freshman point guard made a pair of free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining to give the Cats a 68-63 lead before Carolina's Will Graves tacked on a window-dressing three at the buzzer for the final score. Wall, who grew up watching North Carolina, finished with 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
"It was pretty special," Wall said softly after the game.
The Cats' hopeful return to national prominence had been based mostly on reputation to this point. With John Calipari taking over the program and the arrival of arguably the most heralded recruiting class in history UK ascended to the top five of preseason polls and had taken care of business against mostly overmatched foes prior to North Carolina's arrival. The Tar Heels - who had been tested by top competition more than UK - provided a litmus test to see where the Cats were in their development.
Consider the test passed, but not without obvious areas of needed improvement.
"We're not back," Calipari said. "We're not very good. For us to be this young, we're not very good and we don't know what we're doing but we have enough guys who are trying to have a will to win that we'll make plays. Our execution stinks, like really stinks, but if we'll get better at executing I like our will to win. They believe they will make something happen and we'll win the game."
The gumption Calipari alluded to was on full display against the defending national champions. The Cats fell behind 9-2 to start the game before blowing past Carolina during a 28-2 run that put them in control. Fueled by Wall's blurry coast-to-coast drives and a suffocating defensive presence the Cats turned Carolina into a shell of its normal self and left Rupp Arena as loud as it's been in years.
When Wall found Ramon Harris for a dunk on a fast break 53 seconds into the second half it seemed as if the Cats would cruise home. After the Heels hit a jumper to cut the lead to 45-30 on the next possession Calipari called a timeout and Wall left the with cramps, breathing like into Carolina's hope for a comeback.
"I thought (Wall) dominated the game," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "It helped us with him getting hurt and they showed some of their inexperience."
The Tar Heels kept slowly chipping away and eventually cut the lead to three on a Tyler Zeller bucket in the lane with 4:28 remaining. Wall was whistled for a charge on the other end, giving the Heels an opportunity to tie the game with a three but Larry Drew missed a wide open look from the top of the key. Two possessions later Marcus Ginyard did the same but Carolina still drew within 63-61 with 32.4 seconds on the clock.
Needing points to close out the game freshman guard Eric Bledsoe made 3-of-4 free throws over the next 16 seconds before Wall put the capper on his performance with the final pair of free throws.
"I'm happy with how this played out because we had to play without John," Calipari said. "Well, let's figure it out, what happens? We let a team make a run at us and let's see what we do and see if we can finish it off. I'm proud of my guys."
Even if there is plenty of work to be done.
Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins scramble for the ball with UNC players
Daniel Orton makes a key block against UNC freshman John Henson
Perry Stevenson defends against Deon Thompson