College hoops: Kentucky 68, UNC 66
By Will Graves
LEXINGTON, Ky. ó John Wall wasn’t going to let anything stop him from playing North Carolina, not even the freshman guard’s biggest fear: needles.
Wall bounced back from a bout with dehydration and a queasy encounter with an IV drip to finish with 16 points ó including the clinching free throws with 4.3 seconds left ó to lift No. 5 Kentucky 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 bottles of Gatorade and a bit of teeth grinding by Wall to get back on the floor.
“I hate needles; I was back there having a fit,” Wall said.
So were his teammates, who almost let a big lead 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 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 UNC had pulled within 63-61.The win pushed Kentucky’s victory total to 1,996, just head of North Carolina’s 1,991. 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,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “They just ran us out of the gym.”
The Wildcats snapped a five-game losing streak to the Tar Heels. Patrick Patterson provided some of the grit, finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Deon Thompson led North Carolina with 14 points, and Will Graves added 13.
“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,” point guard Larry Drew II said.
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 second half.”
After Thompson’s corner jumper pulled North Carolina within 63-61, Bledsoe knocked down a pair of free throws. Graves missed a 3-pointer, the rebound bounced out off bounds and Bledsoe made one of two free throws to make it 66-61.
A tip-in by Thompson pulled Carolina within three, but Wall hit two free throws with 4.3 seconds left. Graves hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The win provided redemption of sorts for Wall, a Raleigh native who grew up wanting to play for the Tar Heels. They never offered him a scholarship.
“That’s all he talked about when we’d go back to the room,” said Bledsoe, his roommate. “John wanted this game real bad.”