Wall, Patterson guide Cats to comeback 73-67 victory [ SLIDESHOW]


Freshman guard John Wall celebrates with Darius Miller after scoring during the first half of the UK mens basketball team’s 73-67 win over Alabama in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at the Sommet Center Friday, March 12, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It took nearly 40 minutes, but UK freshman guard John Wall could finally smile and take a deep breath.

Wall received an outlet pass from junior forward Patrick Patterson with 40 seconds remaining in UK’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal game against Alabama, but fumbled away an opportunity at a monster dunk in front of a sea of blue at Bridgestone Arena. 30 minutes prior, the Cats down by 11, that play would have been pivotal, but after a 21-5 second half run led by Wall. The SEC Player of the Year kept possession of the ball and dribbled his way through Alabama defenders smiling the whole way before getting fouled.

Wall and Patterson guided the Cats (30-2, 14-2 Southeastern Conference) back in the second half, scoring 43 of UK’s 73 total points to lead UK to a 73-67 victory over Alabama. Wall finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Patterson poured in 20 points of his own to go along with four rebounds.

“John (Wall) makes the game a whole lot easier,” freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. “When the ball is in his hands you know something fantastic is going to happen. He did that today.”

Wall needed to be fantastic after the Cats came out “sluggish,” as freshman guard Eric Bledsoe said. After taking an early 8-7 lead, the Cats allowed the Tide to roll off a 12-0 run to take an 11-point lead. The Tide controlled the boards in the first half, outrebounding the Cats by 10. Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins was held scoreless in his ten minutes of play after picking up his second foul with 7:45 left.

A sluggish first half ended positively when sophomore guard Darnell Dodson hit UK’s first 3-pointer of the half as time ran out to cut Alabama’s lead to five. The 3-pointer from the wing ended up UK’s only made 3-point basket of the afternoon.

The Cats cut the Tide lead to two on several occasions in the beginning of the second half but Alabama had an answer for each run, until the 15:27 mark.

Trailing 40-36, Wall scored seven straight points for UK to give the Cats their first lead since the 16:21 mark in the first half at 43-42.

Bledsoe combined with Wall in UK’s crucial 21-5 second-half-run. The two speedy freshmen took the ball to the basket constantly in a 6:24 span that saw a 6-point UK-deficit transform into a 10-point lead.

“It wasn’t really the dribble drive, it was just take your man off the dribble, pick and roll,” Bledsoe said. “We were just playing.

“It wasn’t called anything, it was just called take it to the rack.”

In the Cats’ 21-5 run which gave them their biggest lead of the game at 10 points, Wall and Bledsoe scored 17 of UK’s 21 points, all of which came off layups, dunks or free throws.

“Basically Coach told me make a couple of plays,” Wall said. “… Second half, I found the gaps and got into the lane. Second half, he let me run the pick and roll to the five man and let me make the play, and I was getting to the basket.”

While the Cats got the victory, the Cats weren’t overly excited in the locker room following the game because of their first half effort.

“We were beating up ourselves because we know we could play a lot better than we were doing,” Cousins said. “We were just horrible the first half. We just came out and had a bad effort.”

A lack of effort is exactly what Patterson called it. UK, the tallest team in the country, was outrebounded 45-33 by Alabama, and outscored 22-14 on second chance points.

The difference in the game, though, was UK’s ability to get the ball in the paint and finish. The Cats outscored Alabama 46-26 in the paint, and shot nearly 65 percent from inside the arc.

The outcome is a six-point victory for the No. 2 Cats and all but guarantees a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Right now, Cousins said they’re out to win the SEC Tournament and will have better energy in their game tomorrow.

“We’re serious about (the SEC Tournament),” Cousins said. “We’re not trying to lose, we’re trying to win every game.”