In the first month of his career, Kentucky freshman John Wall is already putting up intimidating numbers.
Wall and the No. 5 Wildcats take on Stanford in the Cancun Challenge final on Wednesday.
This is the first meeting between Kentucky (5-0) and Stanford (3-2) since the Wildcats beat the Cardinal 86-85 in overtime in the 1998 Final Four, setting the stage for Kentucky’s last NCAA championship. The Wildcats also won the only other meeting between the schools by the slimmest of margins - 78-77 in Lexington during the 1973-74 season.
One of the nation’s top recruits, Wall has so far lived up to his billing. He’s averaging 19 points through his first four games, and finished with 15 in Kentucky’s 73-49 victory over Cleveland State on Tuesday.
“Our team started making shots and our big men were running, so that opened lanes for me,” said Wall, who attempted a season-low five field goals but made 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. “Every time they collapsed when I penetrated, I was kicking out to shooters and they were making shots. It was being more patient and finding the open people.”
DeMarcus Cousins was the only other Kentucky player to finish in double figures with 14 points and seven rebounds. The Wildcats had averaged 97.0 points in their previous two games, wins over Sam Houston State and Rider.
Kentucky had its biggest rebounding advantage of the season, outrebounding the Vikings 44-24 despite a subpar game from Patrick Patterson. The junior forward came in averaging a team-high 12.3 boards, but finished with only five.
“When teams watch film they think we’re soft and try to push us around,” Wall said. “We got tired of it and started to push back and the game got really physical. They can think that if they want to, but I’m not going to be soft.”
Kentucky is looking to open the season with six straight wins for the first time since 2003-04, when the Wildcats won their first seven games en route to a 27-victory season.
Stanford advanced to face Kentucky in the final following a 57-52 win over Virginia on Tuesday.
Jeremy Green hit a key 3-pointer and Landry Fields made two free throws with 11 seconds remaining to seal the win. The Cardinal shot 38.9 percent overall, but were 8 of 16 from 3-point range. Fields finished with a game-high 25 points to increase his team-leading average to 23.0. The senior swingman also had 13 rebounds and three steals.
Green added 10 points as the only other Stanford player in double figures. The sophomore guard, who had totaled 41 points in his previous two games, is averaging 13.8 through the season’s first five games.
The Cardinal are seeking their first three-game winning streak since opening 2008-09 with 10 straight wins. They’ve lost their last three games against top-10 opponents since a 67-65 overtime win over then-No. 9 Washington State on Feb. 2, 2008.