LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — John Wall shook off a recent slump to score 17 points to go with seven assists while leading No. 4 Kentucky to an 85-75 win over No. 25 Mississippi on Tuesday night.
DeMarcus Cousins added 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Wildcats (21-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference), who built an early double-digit lead then held off a couple of second-half rallies by the Rebels.
Even better for the Wildcats was the steady play of Wall, who was all smiles following a meeting with coach John Calipari to clear the air after both expressed frustration over the freshman's recent play.
Terrico White led Mississippi (16-6, 4-4) with 19 points and Chris Warren added 15 but Mississippi missed freshman big man Reginald Buckner, who sat out his second straight game with a sprained ankle.
Ole Miss certainly could have used Buckner's presence. Kentucky shot 50 percent from the field and outscored the Rebels 44-30 in the paint.
With more than 20 NBA scouts and a handful of general managers on hand, all eyes were on Wall's play. The rest of the packed house at Rupp Arena was a little more focused on his demeanor.
He created a small furor over the weekend when he told reporters he "wasn't having any fun" after the Wildcats beat Vanderbilt.
The freshman expressed frustration with Calipari and his own inability to live up to the sky-high expectations he's built for himself.
During a private chat, Calipari reminded Wall that even the best freshmen struggle at times, including his former Memphis stars Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose. Calipari urged Wall to stop worrying about trying to compete with his own hype and try to focus on simply enjoying himself.
His mood appeared to be corresponding with his play. After a scintillating start to the season in which he became a media darling, Wall's numbers have tailed off recently.
He came in averaging 16.2 points on 39 percent shooting in SEC play, hardly terrible but not exactly up to the ridiculously high standards Wall had set for himself.
Wall said Monday he and Calipari were "cool" and that "everything is OK."
It certainly appeared the good times were back against the Rebels.
Wall dunked on a runout less than 2 minutes in to give the Wildcats a quick 7-0 lead. He screamed as he landed, perhaps letting two weeks of frustration out in the process.
He then drilled a 3-pointer moments later and Kentucky appeared to be ready to bury the Rebels.
Mississippi hung around, however, behind the play of White and Eniel Polynice as the game turned into a tennis match. One team would go on a run, and the other would answer.
Kentucky put together a 15-0 burst to go up 27-9 but the Rebels rallied with an 11-2 surge. The Wildcats managed to take a 46-37 halftime lead, an advantage that could have been larger if not for 11 turnovers.
Darnell Dodson hit two 3-pointers early in the second half to help Kentucky extend the lead to 58-41, but Mississippi kept coming.
The Rebels pulled within 60-57 on a basket by White with 13:55 to play before the Wildcats did something it's been unable to do at times this season: finish strong.
Cousins, collecting his fifth straight double-double, started Kentucky's game-clinching 11-2 run with a putback. Darius Miller then knocked down a 3-pointer before Cousins took a charge. Patrick Patterson, who had 12 points, nailed a 3-pointer then added a three-point play as the Wildcats went back in front 71-59.
Mississippi never got back within single digits, and Wall capped his night with a 3-pointer to put Kentucky up 80-62 with 4:05 remaining.
He walked off the court to a standing ovation, and received another one when he came back onto the court for a postgame radio appearance as the crowd exhaled with Kentucky's star apparently back in his coach's good graces.