As John Wall bore down on a backpedaling Clarion defender, the crowd's anticipation of pleasure hung thick in the Rupp Arena air. When the Kentucky freshman dribbled behind his back to create a path to the basket, fans loaded up a roar.
But defender Mike Sherry spoiled the party by all but bear-hugging Wall.
"I didn't want to be on SportsCenter," Sherry said after UK's 117-52 victory Friday night. "That was my strategy."
Wall had plenty of other highlights, if not good enough for ESPN then more than adequate to thrill Kentucky fans starved for a return to the program's customary dominance.
Wall finished with 27 points and nine assists in directing a UK offense that gave Coach John Calipari the more assertive play he ordered after the earlier exhibition against Campbellsville.
"I asked him, 'Is that your 'A' game?'" Calipari said in his post-game news conference. "He made us different."
Clarion knew about Wall. "If you're involved in basketball, you know about the best players," Sherry said. "He played very well, especially for a freshman."
Although Wall provided plenty of tangible evidence why he's already rated among the best players in the Southeastern Conference, if not the nation, he also flashed a veteran's feel for team dynamics. Rather than take a star turn, the freshman suggested that teammates Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins needing to take more shots, Calipari said.
"Once the two big guys get baskets, they're going to play much better on defense," Wall said. "Get the big guys going, then the guards come later on."
More than against Campbellsville, UK looked to exploit an overwhelming height advantage. Consequently, Cousins scored 20 points. Patterson added 14, including two-for-two shooting from three-point range. Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson and Ramon Harris gave UK six double-digit scorers by each getting 11 points.
"This is a post-up team, too," Calipari said. "More of a post-up team than I've ever coached in my life. Some games we'll have to try to throw it to the post 50 times. They're big and huge."
With UK enjoying a cumulative 25-inch height advantage in starting lineups, the game reflected the mismatch that disparity suggests.
Cousins, who at times was guarded by a player eight inches shorter, scored 13 points in the first half. All came from dunks or layups, plus one free throw.
Wall, who sat out the first exhibition against Campbellsville, had 17 first-half points and six assists. More than a few came off Clarion turnovers as UK pressed much of the half.
Clarion made six of 25 first-half shots. The Golden Eagles hit the top and bottom of the backboard with shots, shot an air-ball free throw and committed 15 first-half turnovers.
Ron Righter said UK's intensity showed how Calipari's get-tough coaching this week made the Cats look different from earlier public displays.
"He definitely got their attention," the Clarion coach said. "And he got ours."
Wall got the crowd's attention. When he departed with 4:21 left, the fans rose and applauded.
"It feels good," Wall said of the respectful — rather than raucous — ovation. "I'm happy the fans are glad to have me."
That was putting it mildly. But Wall downplayed his contributions. "It's not a one-man show," he said. "I've got Kentucky on my chest."
Wall let down his guard when asked about being nervous beforehand.
"I had butterflies until the first basket," he said of a three-pointer less than 90 seconds into the game. "It turned out to be a terrific first game."
As UK fans know only too well, this show might leave town rather than settle in for a long run.
"He's the real deal," the Clarion coach said of Wall. "I hope you can keep him a year or two, because he's in a different league."
The only uncomfortable moment came with the announcement that freshman Daniel Orton had gone to the locker room for evaluation during the first half. "Due to soreness in his chest," UK announced at halftime.
Calipari said the soreness was not about the rib cage or a bone. It was more a joint problem, the UK coach said.
UK listed Orton as day to day. "He's fine," Patterson said. "He's just dealing with a little problem."
Clarion honored Calipari by presenting him with a framed replica of the No. 21 jersey he wore for Golden Eagles in the early 1980s and a framed jersey that the team wears now. Calipari's coach at Clarion, Joe DeGregorio, and Calipari's high school coach, Bill Sacco (also a Clarion alum), presented the jerseys.