John Wall’s Kentucky debut couldn’t have gone much better.
The heralded freshman made sure the No. 4 Wildcats avoided another embarrassing November loss at Rupp Arena, and he’ll try to help them win three in a row to start a season for the first time in three years Thursday night as they host Sam Houston State in the Cancun Challenge.
Wall had to sit out a season-opening 75-59 win over Morehead State on Friday as part of an NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from his AAU coach.
He got the start against Miami of Ohio on Monday and came through when Kentucky needed him most. After the RedHawks made a 3-pointer to tie it with 6 seconds left, Wall took the inbounds pass, raced down the court and hit a 15-footer to give the Wildcats a 72-70 victory.
“When it hit the bottom of the net, it was a relief, a great feeling,” Wall said.
Wall finished with team highs of 19 points and five assists while playing 38 minutes, helping Kentucky come back from an 18-point deficit in the first half.
“I’m just going to be honest. I am just trying to figure out how we are supposed to play. … A lot of stuff right now is because we have had only 20-something practices,” first-year coach John Calipari said. “But, I was ecstatic that we got down 18 points. Because I wanted to see what we were made of and when this team wouldn’t go away the thing I loved about my team was they would say, ‘We are not losing this. We are not losing this game.’”
Kentucky also had trouble with lesser opponents at Rupp over the past two seasons, losing 84-68 to Gardner-Webb in 2007 and 111-103 to VMI in ’08.
“This year, it feels good to be in a situation like this and come out on top with the win,” said junior forward Patrick Patterson, averaging team bests of 18.5 points and 11.0 rebounds.
The Wildcats will face another upset-minded team in Sam Houston State, which won its first two games by an average of 34.0 points.
Junior forward Gilberto Clavell, in his first season with the Bearkats after transferring from Collin County CC (Texas), scored 19 in a 91-54 victory over Texas College on Monday night.
Clavell leads Sam Houston State with 15.0 points per game, shooting 66.7 percent from the field (14 for 21).
Kentucky hosts Rider on Saturday afternoon before traveling to Mexico for a pair of games next week. Sam Houston State visits Cleveland State on Saturday before also heading to Cancun for two contests next week.