Wall had a team-high 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists and even four blocked shots in 39 minutes, but it wasn't enough against an inspired West Virginia that outshot UK from 3-point range and beat the Wildcats inside for easy shots way more than anyone imagined they could.
"I'm not worried about the talk about what I am doing next," said Wall. "I'm sad and disappointed we didn't make it as far as the goals we set as a team. I'm going to sit back and enjoy the rest of my college year with my teammates and finish the rest of the school year out. That's all I am thinking about."
Wall credited West Virginia for outplaying the Cats and causing confusion with its 1-3-1 zone that kept him from penetrating except in transition.
"I knew it would be a tough game. That didn't shock me," Wall said. "But when you go 0-for-20 from 3-point range like we did, it eats away at your confidence. We usually miss shots and just keep shooting until we make them. But they kept me out of the lane and when that happens, you have to knock down shots and we didn't."
Kentucky went almost 37 minutes with a 3-point goal. Wall was 1-for-5 from long range and his one make was an unplanned bank shot. Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller were both 0-for-4. Eric Bledsoe was 0-for-5, Darnell Dodson 2-for-9 and DeAndre Liggins 1-for-5.
"How can that be? We are not great shooters, but we are not that bad," Wall said. "West Virginia is a long, athletic team and did a great job denying us from getting to the wings or lane. I think if we had just made a shot or two early, it would have made them spread out more. But we never knocked down shots. That's my fault because I'm the leader on the floor." Patterson said the poor shooting was not Wall's fault.
"Their 1-3-1 zone rattled us. We didn't execute and hit shots. That was everybody, not just John," Patterson said. "We had great looks most of the time. We just didn't make them." Not winning hurt Wall even more because he wanted to let Patterson and seniors Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson and Mark Krebs savor a national title.
"Those guys went through hell here the last two years. We wanted to win for them," Wall said. "I can still look back and remember we had an amazing year and did a lot of great things. But we didn't win it all."
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins briefly went away from the zone in the first half when UK built a 13-6 lead. After that, the Mountaineers stayed in the zone to contain Wall and make the Cats show they could hit shots.
"We came in thinking that we would change defenses on them," Huggins, who is 8-1 against Calipari, said. "Try to keep them off balance. I don't know, maybe halfway through the first half it seemed like the 1-3-1 was better. So we were going to ride that as long as we could ride it." The Mountaineers also thought their physical screens on offense took a toll on both Wall and freshman center DeMarcus Cousins, who had 15 points and eight rebounds to go with five turnovers.
"I think our offensive execution really wears teams down," guard Joe Mazzulla, who had 17 points, said. "We're at our worst when we take forced shots and when we don't execute. When we kind of force John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to come off screens and to kind of chase us, I just think it wears them down and gets them tired. We didn't give them any easy looks at the basket either. I thought the 1-3-1 was a lot more physical than we've played in the past."
"The way we played defensively, we made it very difficult for them to see open cutters and just make plays in general. I don't want to say we beat them up on defense, but we play very physical and you get on offense and we run so much, setting screens, curling screens and all that, it kind of wears people out," West Virginia's De'Sean Butler said.