Game Notes: UConn vs. UK
John Wall takes over the Big Apple.
by Franklyn Calle
The most talked about freshman in America, John Wall, took center stage and arrived at the biggest platform of them all, Madison Square Garden. And he lived up to every single bit of the hype. In what seemed to be close to a sold-out crowd, the building was electrified from about 30 minutes prior to the scheduled tip-off. Throughout the entire shoot-around, Kentucky and UConn fans took turns in doing their traditional school pep cheers. The Huskies and Wildcats fan bases seemed just about even around the arena.
The starting lineups were called in an alternating order (one Kentucky player followed by a Connecticut player). Wall is called last for Kentucky and the place went crazy. So you might guess Wall had the loudest cheers among all the player introductions, right? Not at all. Right after Wall is announced, Bronx native Kemba Walker’s name was called to a standing ovation, in which you could feel the building rumble. It’s safe to say Walker’s family, friends and a good percentage of Uptown were definitely in the building.
So it’s tip-off and about 90 percent of the people are on their feet, including a group of Connecticut fans that happen to be standing right in front of me.
From the first play, Kentucky came out as the aggressors while Connecticut looked lackadaisical. UK won the tip-off and junior Patrick Patterson hit a turn-around jumper in the paint for the game’s first couple points. Wall stole the ball from Jerome Dyson and led the fastbreak dishing it to John Calipari’s other starting freshman guard, Eric Bledsoe, for a layup. Connecticut quickly called a timeout, only 30 seconds into the game. The timeout wouldn’t do much for the Huskies as Kentucky continued to run.
Off a Dyson missed shot, the UK freshmen guard connection would be in display once again with Bledsoe throwing an alley to Wall for the dunk. Connecticut committed three turnovers in the first two minutes. A shot by Patterson, and a jumper and layup by Wall puts the score at 12-0 in Kentucky’s favor, forcing UConn to call another timeout.
Whatever Jim Calhoun told his guys in the huddle must have sparked some emotion as they would resume the game with a different approach. Senior forward Garvin Edwards put UConn on the board and Dyson took over the leadership role, giving Connecticut three quick baskets to cut the deficit to 8-12. After switching baskets for a while, a jumper by Walker put the score even at 16 apiece. As expected, the Garden went crazy.
From that point on, it would be all UConn for the rest of the half. The Huskies went on a 10-2 run, attacking the basket and getting strong finishes by Walker and Edwards, as well as by getting to the free throw line and knocking them down.
Both teams traded baskets in the remaining four minutes and UConn headed to the locker room with a 29-23 lead at the half.
The Huskies held on to the lead for the first 8 minutes as both teams went back and forth trading baskets. But with 12:48 remaining and UConn up, 40-34, the Wildcats embarked on another one of their mega runs. This time a 10-0 run led by three-pointers from Wall and Patterson, gave Kentucky the lead for the first time since they were up in the first half with over nine minutes to go. Now up 44-40, Kentucky looked to build from their lead but Stanley Robinson and Edwards kept UConn in it with crucial baskets.
With under three minutes to play and Kentucky leading 60-57, hometown favorite Walker went to the free throw line on back-to-back possessions but only made 1-2 both occasions, cutting UK’s lead to 60-59. Anyone who has seen Walker play since his high school days at Harlem powerhouse Rice HS knew he would redeem himself. He did just that. On the very next possession following a Kentucky turnover, Walker pulled a combo of crossover moves on Wall which had the freshman stumbling and the crowd on their feet. Noticing he now had enough room, Walker shot a mid-range jumper right over Wall to put Connecticut up by one, 61-60, with just over a minute to play.
But just as we knew what Walker would do, we also knew it was Wall’s turn next. So with over 30 seconds to go, Wall went left past three defenders for an incredible left-handed layup, in which he didn’t even seem to have a good angle on it to begin with. Foul was called on Alex Ariakhi on the play, so Wall calmly went to the free throw line and knocked down the shot for the three-point play—putting Kentucky back up at 63-61.
After misses by Walker and Robinson for UConn, a free throw by Ramon Harris would give UK a 64-61 lead with 13 seconds to go. He missed the second and Walker quickly rebounded and pushed it up the floor. The ball eventually ended up in Edwards’ hands for a three-point attempt that didn’t hit the rim. Walker fought for the rebound, headed back behind the arc and shot up a desperation three-pointer with the buzzer sounding that also missed the rim.
And just like that, the freshmen duo of Wall and Bedsoe came away with a victory over the much more experienced Dyson-Walker backcourt. Wall lived up to expectations putting up a new season-high 25 points. Patterson also had a great game, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.
For Connecticut, Dyson finished with a team-high 17 points, along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Walker had a good all-around performance with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Edwards really impressed, finishing with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
It was approximately 12:25 a.m. when I was on the elevator heading down to exit the building. Once the elevator doors open in the 1st floor, I noticed Wall was in the lobby with Bedsoe, a couple of other players and some assistants and staffers. With them in front of me, we headed out the door at the media/players/employee entrance of MSG. As soon as the doors opened and we stepped out the building, we were besieged by a crowd that had to range somewhere from 200-225 people. Welcome to Wall’s post-game.
That’s what he deals with after every game. Surrounded by fans who are thirsty for autographs, pictures, video, or just a simple high-five. Other members of the media and I tried to push our way out of the pile. So when I finally made it out the jumble, I turned around to see how Wall was doing. There he was signing autographs and taking pictures with a tired looking smile on his face. He looked around to see if there was anybody out there from the Kentucky team that could help him in clearing the way so he could get to the team bus parked across the street. A couple of assistants smiled back at him, sort of saying, “You’re on your own.”
He smiles back and turns around to continue signing more autographs and taking pictures. Right there on the corner of 33rd and 8th Ave. stood a 19-year-old kid who was anything but your regular 19-year-old college student. While keeping that smile on his face and dealing with the crowd, Wall made his way to the bus little by little. Finally at around 12:33 a.m., Wall broke loose from the crowd and was able to cross the street.
This was Wall’s lone game at the “Mecca of Basketball” this season but if everything continues the way it is, next time he walks out the Garden, he will do so with a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract. It could only be six months away.