Freshman sensation John Wall — the subject of a Sports Illustrated feature hitting newsstands later this week — added to his already immense renown in Kentucky's 104-61 victory over Hartford Tuesday. He set a school record with 16 assists before leaving to an ovation with 4:17 left.
With his usual flair for the dramatic, Wall broke Travis Ford's record on Ford's 40th birthday.
Asked if he knew Ford played for Kentucky in the early 1990s, Wall said, "No, sir."
But Wall knew of Ford. "He coaches at Oklahoma State," the freshman said. "He recruited me."
Two of Wall's favorite targets this night, freshman big men DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, scored 19 and 10 points, respectively. Cousins added 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double. Orton hit double-digit points for only the second time.
More than once, Wall threw lobs that the big men dunked.
"In high school, we did that a lot," Wall said of the dunk-a-thon.
Wall, who had only one turnover in 30 minutes, also got plenty of assists with passes to the perimeter.
UK, which improved its record to 14-0 for the first time since the national championship season of 1977-78, hit a season-high 14 three-pointers. Darnell Dodson (six) and Darius Miller (four) each had career highs from beyond the arc. Dodson had only five threes in UK's past five games before shredding Hartford's zone.
Wall noted how Hartford's sagging zone defense dictated UK shoot three-pointers.
"Every time I drove, the whole team went into the lane," he said.
Kentucky stuffed highlights into the first half like a cook preparing the holiday turkey.
Wall rolled up 11 assists before halftime, putting him within reach of the record of 15 set by Ford against Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 8, 1993.
"It felt great," Wall said. "My teammates did a great job getting open. I did a great job dealing them the ball on time.
"I just thought five more (assists) and take me out."
No wonder Kentucky enjoyed its highest-scoring half of the season in rolling up a 57-31 lead at intermission.
Wall played ringmaster on this celebratory night. He threw four lob passes that either Cousins or Orton dunked.
The heralded freshman was on the receiving end of the half's most spectacular play. He took a lob from Darius Miller and whipped home a behind-the-head dunk that caused a roar that Times Square at midnight Thursday will find difficult to duplicate.
"I've been doing that in practice all the time," Wall said. "In games, I'm scared I'll miss. Today, everybody said they wanted to see me do something new."
The second half brought no let-up by Kentucky. Wall kept passing, the threes kept falling, and the lead reached 30 points in the first minute and 40 before the first television timeout.
Not that ever-ravenous Kentucky fans wanted the slaughter to stop.
With UK ahead 69-31 and about 16 minutes left, fans booed lustily when Hartford's Clayton Brothers wrapped an arm on Wall so the foul would prevent a breakaway dunk.
"I was kind of upset because I wanted a breakaway," Wall said. "But, too bad."
Wall left the game with 14 assists on a mass substitution at the 11:09 mark and UK leading 84-40. He returned at 7:53 to try for the record.
"I normally don't do that," UK Coach John Calipari said. "They said he needed two for the record. I ran everything for him to get the record. I did it because this was a game he could have scored 30 points. And he didn't."
Wall's response? "I said thank you for it," he said.
Wall tied the record with 6:04 left when he fed the post, where Josh Harrellson freed himself for a turnaround jumper. (An assist is a slippery statistic.)
The record came with 4:41 left when Wall passed to an open Perry Stevenson at the foul line.
"I said, shoot it!" Wall said. To which, Stevenson said, "Huh."
So Wall repeated, "Shoot it!"
Stevenson's jumper extended UK's lead to 97-53.
When asked if this latest chapter in Wall's UK career will be a one-year novella, the freshman flashed a self-conscious smile.
"Right now, it's pretty tough," he said of the widespread speculation that he'll enter the 2010 NBA draft. "A lot of guys say I can go."
After noting his goals of an unbeaten season, Southeastern Conference championship and national title, Wall said of a one-and-done college career, "It depends on how the team does, how I do and if Coach Cal tells me it's the right time to go."