No. 5 Kentucky 68, No. 10 North Carolina 66
John Wall wasn’t going to let anything stop him from playing
North Carolina, not even the superstar point guard’s biggest fear:
The Kentucky freshman bounced back from a bout with dehydration
and a queasy encounter with an IV drip to finish with 16 points –
including the clinching free throws with 4.3 seconds left – to lift
the No. 5 Wildcats to a 68-66 victory over the 10th-ranked Tar
Heels on Saturday.
Wall dominated at times while helping the Wildcats (8-0) build a
19-point first-half lead,then spent 20 anxious minutes in the
training room after cramping up. It took a couple of bottles of
Gatorade and a bit of teeth grinding by Wall to get back on the
“I hate needles, I was back there having a fit,” Wall
So were his teammates, who almost let a big lead against the
defending national champions get away in front of the largest crowd
in Rupp Arena history.
Kentucky inched closer to becoming the first program to reach
2,000 victories thanks to some clutch free throw shooting by Wall
and fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe. The duo combined to make 5 of 6
in the final 30 seconds after the Tar Heels pulled within
“You guys are going to say I’m crazy, but I’m happy with the
way it played out,” said coach John Calipari. “We let the other
team come at us. We gave up way too many (3s) but I’m proud of my
guys. We did what we needed to do. We had just enough.”
The win pushed Kentucky’s victory total to 1,996, just head of
North Carolina’s 1,991. Not that the Wildcats were concerned with
For a team whose motto is “envy our past, fear our future,”
the first signature win of Calipari’s tenure proved his rebuilding
job is well ahead of schedule.
“I hope it just gives people some respect for us that we’re a
pretty good team,” Wall said. “We did what we were supposed to,
come out with a win against a great team.”
Consider North Carolina coach Roy Williams convinced,
particularly after the Wildcats took control with an explosive 28-2
run in the first half.
“You’ve got to give them congratulations, they really kicked
our butts,” Williams said. “They just ran us out of the
The Wildcats snapped a five-game losing streak to the Tar Heels.
Forward Patrick Patterson provided some of the grit, finishing with
19 points and seven rebounds to help Kentucky off to its best start
since 1992-93, when the Wildcats won their first 11 games.
“The definition of this team is that we are tough down the
stretch,” Patterson said. “I still feel we have a long way to
So do the Tar Heels.
Deon Thompson led North Carolina with 14 points and Will Graves
“We’re North Carolina and we can talk all we want about what
we’re going to do, but when we’re out there on the court we have to
take care of business,” said point guard Larry Drew.
The Tar Heels couldn’t quite do it, something Williams
attributed to his team’s inability to stay composed during
Kentucky’s decisive run.
“We both showed our inexperience,” Williams said. “We showed
it in the first half and I think they showed it a little bit in the
After Thompson’s jumper from the corner pulled North Carolina
within 63-61, Bledsoe shook off several late-game miscues to knock
down a pair of free throws. After Graves missed a 3-pointer and the
rebound bounced out off bounds, Bledsoe made one of two to make it
“I was kind of worked up too much early in the game, but as the
game wore on I let the game come to me,” Bledsoe said.
A tip-in by Thompson pulled Carolina to 66-63, but Wall finished
his breakout performance by calmly sinking two free throws with 4.3
seconds left. Graves hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer, and
by then the Wildcats bench had poured onto the floor to
Calipari said before the game he was anxious to see how his team
responded when it got “punched in the mouth,” and still refused
to say college basketball’s winningest program is back.
“We had 21 turnovers, a couple of times we had guys not knowing
what they were supposed to do,” Calipari said. “Our execution
really stinks right now.”
Maybe, but Kentucky had an answer when things got tight: Give
the ball to Wall. He dazzled the NBA scouts in attendance with the
kind of playmaking ability that will likely make him a lottery pick
next spring if he chooses to leave. Wall finished with seven
assists, five rebounds and a handful of spectacular plays.
“We talked about slowing him down,” Williams said. “Boy, we
didn’t do that.”
The win provided redemption of sorts for Wall, a native of
Raleigh, N.C., who grew up wanting to play for the Tar Heels.
Though North Carolina pursued him throughout high school, the Tar
Heels never offered him a scholarship.
It’s something Wall said he’s over, but Bledsoe knew better
after listening to his roommate.
“That’s all he talked about when we’d go back to the room,”
Bledsoe said of the days leading up to the game. “John wanted this
game real bad.”