CANCUN, Mexico (AP) -Once John Wall gained his footing, not even a warped court could slow down Kentucky.
The heralded freshman found his form in the second half and proved too much to handle in the open floor as the No. 5 Wildcats raced past Cleveland State 73-49 on Tuesday in the Cancun Challenge at the Moon Palace Resort.
Wall scored a team-high 15 points, including 11 after halftime, as he zipped in and out of the Cleveland State defense. The nation's top-rated recruit last year repeatedly took charge with the ball, drawing trips to the free-throw line or setting up teammates for open looks at the basket.
``They had to go help and didn't have any choice because John was driving in there and getting everyone looks,' Kentucky forward Darius Miller said. ``It changes everything because everybody has to help and if they don't it's an easy layup for him. It just creates so many open opportunities for everyone else.'
Wall did most of his damage from the foul line, going 9 of 10 while taking only five shots from the field. When he didn't finish or draw a foul himself, he found open teammates with kick-out passes against a Vikings defense stretched thin.
``Our team started making shots and our big men were running, so that opened lanes for me,' Wall said. ``Every time they collapsed when I penetrated, I was kicking out to shooters and they were making shots. It was being more patient and finding the open people.'
The game was played in unconventional surroundings, with the resort's main ballroom being converted into a makeshift gymnasium.
Chandeliers hung from the low ceiling, two electronic scoreboards were connected to the ceiling by wire cables, and a food buffet sat just a few feet off the end of one baseline. Sections of the hardwood floor had gaps several inches wide and the baseline was a jagged line where the floor did not match up.
The game was chippy and ragged from the start, with both teams talking trash and officials whistling 24 fouls in the first half. A late 3-pointer by 6-foot-10 forward Josh Harrellson stemmed a late Cleveland State run and gave Kentucky a 35-27 lead at the break.
Kentucky (5-0) took control early in the second half when freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins hit a 3 as the shot clock expired, then made five free throws on one possession, aided by an intentional foul called on D'Aundray Brown for grabbing Wall and pulling him to the floor on a breakaway.
``When teams watch film they think we're soft and try to push us around,' Wall said. ``We got tired of it and started to push back and the game got really physical. They can think that if they want to, but I'm not going to be soft.'
By the time Cleveland State (3-2) called a timeout with 13:08 remaining, Kentucky had outscored the Vikings 18-4 in the second half to open a 22-point advantage.
Cousins was whistled for a technical foul for throwing an intentional elbow at Cleveland State's Jared Cunningham with 3:25 left after an official warned Cunningham for shoving Cousins in the back seconds earlier.
Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said his squad's philosophy is to try and take the fight to the opponent, but he wasn't thrilled with the way the referees handled the physical game. The Vikings were called for 25 fouls and attempted 15 free throws to Kentucky's 35.
At one point in the second half, Cleveland State had been whistled for seven fouls while the Wildcats had not been penalized a single time.
``That's how we play,' Waters said. ``We're aggressive and defend really hard and when you start getting those fouls you have to let up on how hard and physical you play a team. If they would have just gotten out of the way and let that game be played - and I won't tell you who needed to get out of the way - the game could have been interesting. I don't know if we would have won, but I thought we could have played much better. I think we could have stayed in that game if we had been allowed to play our defense the way we do.'
Kentucky won despite preseason All-American Patrick Patterson finishing with only nine points and five rebounds, both well below his season averages of 19 points and 12.3 rebounds. Patterson played just one minute in the second half because of what coach John Calipari called a slight ankle injury.
Cleveland State was led by Brown and reserve Jeremy Montgomery, who scored 10 points apiece.
Cousins had 14 points and seven rebounds for Kentucky, while Miller added nine points and eight rebounds.
The Associated Press News Service
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