The legend of John Wall only grows.
Ghosts of Gardner-Webb hung heavy in Rupp Arena Monday night. Massive underdog Miami (Ohio), fresh off a loss to Towson, had ridden blistering three-point shooting to a 70-70 standoff with mighty Kentucky.
As the game clock ticked toward zero, Wall — the lavishly hyped UK freshman point guard playing in his first "real" college basketball game — raced down court with the basketball.
"I was kind of nervous," Wall would say later. "Under six seconds to go. I knew I had to try to make a play."
When the clock dropped under two seconds, the 6-foot-4 North Carolina product rose from the floor just left of the lane and launched a 15-footer.
Rupp Arena so loud, it was literally vibrating from the noise.
Kentucky 72, Miami 70.
If you wondered how in the world Wall could ever live up to the hoopla surrounding his college hoops debut, I'd say that was a rather dramatic answer.
"He's fast, and he's good, and he just hit a big-time shot," said Miami guard Kenny Hayes (whose own big-time shot, a trey with six seconds left, had tied the game at 70).
Deadpanned Charlie Coles, the venerable Miami Coach: "John Wall, he's pretty good."
Wall's heroics came at the end of a night when, judging by the Kilimanjaro-high expectations he faces, he was good, not great.
The final numbers: A team-high 19 points on 4-for-9 shooting. His five assists were balanced out by five turnovers.
Still, Wall's first game after completing an NCAA-mandated suspension of two contests (one exhibition; one real game) turned out to be a teachable moment.
The specter of VMI filled Rupp when Kentucky fell behind 36-18 with 7:04 left in the first half on one of Nick Winbush's six first-half three-pointers. With UK clearly needing a boost, Wall said, he briefly reverted to high school form.
"In high school, you get behind 18, you try to get it back yourself," he said. "I was trying that, trying to do too much, which you can't do in college."
That is exactly what Kentucky Coach John Calipari told him during a trip to the bench.
"I just watched for a couple of minutes, then I told him I was ready to go back," Wall said. "In college, you can't do things just yourself. I guess that was my lesson learned."
Still, Wall showed flashes of the ability that has many touting him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
Late in the first half, he used his quick hands to wrest the dribble away from Miami's Hayes, then batted the ball out of bounds off the RedHawk's leg.
Early in the second, Wall put a sick crossover dribble on Hayes, beat him into the lane and got fouled going up for a shot.
Late in the contest, when, stunningly, every possession counted, he penetrated into the lane, and dropped a slick pass off to fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins for a layup that put UK ahead 69-67.
"I had five turnovers, and I took a couple of bad shots," Wall said. "Overall, I thought I played good. I can do better."
In the big picture, UK is clearly a work in progress. A team with a new coach installing a new system and six new players should be just that.
Calipari marvelled that his freshman-heavy squad survived on a night when it fell behind by 18 against a foe that would finish hitting a white-hot 15-for-26 from three-point range.
"We needed this," Calipari said. "I was ecstatic that we got down 18 points. I wanted to see what we were made of."
The game's ending certainly showed what Wall is made of.
Said Wall: "It shows I have the confidence to make shots at the end of tough games."
Pretty nice way to begin living up to the hype.
Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or email@example.com.