LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Kentucky doesn’t need John Wall to win games.
The No. 3 Wildcats are just as deadly without their star point guard playing to his potential.
In his worst appearance of the season, Wall scored six points in Kentucky’s 81-55 romp against LSU on Saturday. Despite a poor night for the freshman, who ranks among the Southeastern Conference’s top 10 in five statistical categories, the Wildcats still managed a 22-0 first-half run and kept LSU to just 27 percent shooting after leading by as many as 33.
With fellow freshman Demarcus Cousins notching his sixth-straight double-double against the Tigers, Wall learned that he doesn’t have to carry the Wildcats.
“He is finally understanding that he doesn’t have to play up to the hype” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Now he’s running our team the way it needs to be run.”
Against North Carolina earlier in the year, the Wildcats lost a 19-point first-half lead while Wall was in the locker room 20 minutes being treated for dehydration. Kentucky barely won after Wall hit critical free throws down the stretch. At that point in the season, it looked like Wall was the key to Kentucky’s success.
But the Wildcats no longer need their point guard to carry them now that’s he’s learning to support them. As Wall’s scoring output drops, he’s getting more assists, and he now ranks second nationally in that category.
“We do need everybody on this team to win a game, and people forget that,” said freshman center Daniel Orton. “(Wall) didn’t show up in the point category (against LSU), but he always shows up everywhere else. He puts you in a position to score.”
Placing the team first and his scoring second has also put Kentucky (22-1, 7-1 SEC) on track to vie for a top seed in the NCAA tournament come March. The rest of the team has also improved with Wall no longer focusing on trying to score.
“Now you got Patrick (Patterson) playing better, you got Darnel (Dodson) playing better, you got the entire bench playing better,” Calipari said.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant said he’s preparing for the whole Kentucky package when the Crimson Tide visits the Wildcats on Tuesday night.
“For us it’s never going to be about an individual,” Grant said. “Kentucky is a very talented team. We’re going to approach it in terms of a team game and try to put ourselves in a position to have success.”
Even so, Alabama will have to try to contain Cousins. The Alabama native has emerged as the Wildcats’ biggest weapon, averaging 16.4 points and 10 rebounds. Calipari said the freshman just keeps getting better.
“I’ve not had a guy come together that fast,” he said.
Then there’s the rest of the Wildcats. Against LSU, Kentucky’s reserves combined for 22 points.
“We’re all coming along our own ways and everyone is coming together,” Orton said. “We’re all just getting into our grooves and understanding how to play at a high level.”
All of this comes at a bad time for Alabama (13-10, 3-6), which has lost three straight in league play. Grant is trying to steady his team for the final stretch of conference action.
“I think (Kentucky is) playing extremely well, so for us it’s just a matter of going in and controlling the things that we can control—how hard we play, how well we compete and the attention to the details. … ” he said. “I think right now it’s more about us than it is about anything else.”
And he shouldn’t expect the Wildcats to look past the Crimson Tide.
“It’s another dangerous game,” Calipari said. “This will be another good test for us.”