- Monday, November 16 2009 -
Miami (OH) - 70 (Head Coach: Charlie Coles) - [Preseason Unranked by AP]
Kentucky - 72 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Preseason Ranked 4th by AP]
Halftime Score: Miami (OH) 39, Kentucky 36
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Wall's game winner makes for unforgettable debut
Conventional wisdom suggested John Wall's debut in a Kentucky uniform couldn't possibly live up to the months of incessant hype. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Kentucky freshman John Wall rose for a 14-foot jump shot that gave the Wildcats a 72-70 lead with :00.5 left on the clock. Wall buried a 12-foot step back jumper from the left wing with 0.5 seconds remaining to rescue UK in his collegiate unveiling. The dagger allowed the Cats to escape 72-70 over a relentless Miami (Ohio) squad that wouldn't crumble in a Rupp Arena atmosphere that felt more like March.
"With John, and the hype he has, it's all the truth," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. "John Wall is legit, he's the real deal. I said right after the game, John just started his legacy. That's John."
The ending was only fitting for a game that was wild from the outset. Wall missed the second of two free throws with 19.5 seconds remaining, setting up Miami guard Kenny Hayes' NBA three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 70 with 6.0 seconds remaining. Wall took the inbound pass, streaked downcourt and cut left before rising up and burying the game-winner. As the crowd of 23,337 roared with delight the freshman charged toward midcourt with arms outstretched and unleashed a wave of emotion.
"I always dreamed of (making a game-winner)," Wall said. "I watched Michael Jordan makes all of those shots so I always dreamed of it."
It certainly wasn't the type of game UK fans expected (VMI or Gardner-Webb anyone?) but it may have been just what the Cats needed to do the learning coach John Calipari has talked about. The RedHawks connected on 15-of-26 from three-point range, including Nick Winbush's 8-of-10 performance. Miami caught fire midway through the first half, ripping off a 25-4 run against a stunned UK. The RedHawks connected on 10 three-pointers in the half, including seven during their torrid stretch that put the Cats on the ropes.
"Coach Cal said they could shoot but good grief, I didn't know they could shoot that good," Wall said.
The Cats managed to regain their composure and fed off a crowd that sounded in midseason form, responding with an 18-3 burst of their own to pull within three at the half. Wall added a pair of free throws 1:43 into the second half to draw UK within a point but Miami was unbowed and extended the lead back out to six before UK took a 57-52 lead with 7:04 remaining. Again, Miami wouldn't fold.
"Down 18 and you're supposed to win by 37 and we didn't fold," UK coach John Calipari said. "I'm proud of them."
Even with the comeback the night was all about Wall, the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit who missed the season opener as part of the conditions the NCAA placed upon him in order to be eligible to play this season. The 6-foot-4 jet had his freshman moments but when the biggest moment of the game appeared he was no shrinking violet.
"He had one thought," Calipari said. "Win the game."
Ironically, Wall credited a recent tip from assistant coach Rod Strickland and some pregame work for setting up his spotlight moment. Realizing he couldn't always get to the rim at this level the way he did in high school Wall took Strickland's advice to develop the ability to make mid-range jumpers to heart. It took just one game to pay hefty dividends.
"I've been working on it lately because coach Strickland told me you have to have a pull-up game and a floater, so I've worked on it lately and came to the game early to work on it," Wall said.
It's a shot that may be looked upon as the first snapshot moment in a potentially breathtaking career.
"I think he lived up to it and surpassed it, especially with that shot at the end," junior forward Patrick Patterson said.
Patrick Patterson absorbs the impact
Daniel Orton has a cut over his eye tended to after knocking heads with a Miami player
John Wall with the game winner