Wall, Kentucky outmuscle Tide
LEXINGTON, Ky. — It was an historic night of scoring and rebounding for John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, but most of the discussion after the game was about what Kentucky’s two freshman phenoms did wrong in yet another easy victory for the third-ranked Wildcats.
Wall had 22 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double and Cousins got his seventh straight — best by a Kentucky player in 37 years — as the Wildcats outmuscled Alabama 66-55 on Tuesday night.
Yet coach John Calipari and the players were calling it an off night, even for the two stars — Wall because of turnovers, Cousins because he could have scored more.
As March Madness nears and Kentucky aims for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, Wall says he understands the expectations are growing.
“It’s kind of tough because we do great so much, and one night — or a couple nights in a row — they expect more from you,” he said.
Although Wall lit up the scoreboard at the end, the game started ugly for him. While he came in ranked second in the country in assists, he only managed two in this game — both in the second half. By then, he had racked up six turnovers — many of them sloppy ones — forcing Calipari at one point to take him out.
“He lost three balls that weren’t even forced,” Calipari said.
With 16 points and 13 rebounds, Cousins extended his UK freshman record with 15 double-doubles. The last Kentucky player to get seven in a row was Jim Andrews, who had a team-record 10 straight in 1973.
Five of Cousins’ rebounds were on the offensive end, while all of Wall’s career-high 10 were on defense. Still, there were problems there as well as his teammates seldom found him open in the middle early — a halftime adjustment Calipari made with great success.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant said Cousins was the key.
“It’s obvious on film how big he is,” Grant said. “But what you miss is the skill level that goes with a guy that size.”
With the victory, Kentucky (23-1, 8-1) remained in first place in the Southeastern Conference East Division, one game ahead of Vanderbilt, which beat Tennessee on Tuesday.
Tony Mitchell had 13 points for Alabama (13-11, 3-7).
Cousins got his 10th and 11th points on a one-handed heave in traffic midway through the second half that gave the Wildcats their biggest lead at 46-32.
He got his 10th rebound the next trip down the court, then scored again off Eric Bledsoe’s missed 3.
Alabama chipped away at the lead and cut it to 51-45 with 8 minutes left on a jumper by JaMychal Green. The Tide matched that six-point deficit with under a minute left on Anthony Brock’s 3-pointer but got no closer as two free throws by Wall and a dunk by Patrick Patterson helped seal the victory for the Wildcats.
Cousins, who grew up in Mobile, Ala., has acknowledged a sometimes-rocky high school career there, and was heavily recruited by former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. Instead, he opted to sign the first letter of intent under Calipari at Kentucky.
The 6-foot-11, 260-pound center claimed Monday that the game against the Crimson Tide was “just another game,” although he had assigned it far more weight in past statements to the media.
Early on, every shot taken by a Kentucky player seemed to come closely guarded by one, two or — at times — three Alabama defenders.
“They were just playing hard-nosed defense, playing rough,” Bledsoe said. “We just had to adjust to it.”
Nobody adjusted more than Wall, who despite his turnovers gave the Wildcats a scoring boost, especially in the first half when they needed it most. Other than a wide-open 3 that gave Kentucky its first lead at 15-13, the rest of Wall’s first-half points came under tight pressure from the stingy Alabama defense.
First, Wall faked a pass, drove to the basket and drew Charvez Davis’ first foul. A few minutes later came another three-point play on a similar drive, this one sending Davis to the bench with his third foul.
With Alabama up 11-4 early, Kentucky scored 13 of the next 15 points. The Wildcats took the lead for good with 5:45 before halftime on Patterson’s dunk off a steal by Bledsoe. Patterson added a 3-pointer seconds before halftime — just Kentucky’s second in 11 first-half attempts — to give Kentucky a 31-24 lead.
Although Alabama’s defense was tough, Kentucky’s was better — and seldom gave the Crimson Tide the benefit of foul shots.
Alabama made 9 of 10 free throws in the game, but didn’t manage their first until the second half. Kentucky, meanwhile connected on just 61 percent from the line, going 19 for 31.
Still, despite the win and the individual accomplishments, Calipari was displeased.
“There was effort but there wasn’t great play, top to bottom,” he said.