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Wall, Cousins too much for sophs

2/19/2011 - NBA


LOS ANGELES -- News flash: This season's rookie class isn't just Blake Griffin.

And while the hometown L.A. crowd roared, "We want Blake!" on Friday night, it instead was treated to a pretty good show by the tandem of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Griffin played only 14 minutes in the Rookie Challenge to keep himself fresh for the dunk contest and All-Star Game, but Wall and Cousins -- two former University of Kentucky teammates -- ran circles around the second-year pros in the annual rookie-sophomore game.

Washington's Wall scored 12 points and set a record with 22 assists, while Sacramento's Cousins had a game-high 33 points and 14 rebounds as the rookies won 148-140 -- fittingly finishing it off by reversing roles as Cousins passed off the backboard for a Wall slam dunk.

While the two former Wildcats dominated, occasionally with the help of a third Wildcat (the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe), it was game MVP Wall who set the tone. Targeting the game's assist record from the get-go, he was driving and diming until he blew past the former mark of 17 by Chris Paul.

"I was keeping count," Wall said. "I asked before the game what the assist record was, and during the game, my teammates were telling me how far away I was. Then at the end, I was just trying to get the win."

Meanwhile, Cousins shook off his assorted behavior issues long enough to befuddle the smaller sophomore side.

The finishing Cousins-to-Wall flourish was one of many highlight dunks in a game that featured virtually no defense -- it was the highest-scoring one in a series that has rarely been a purist's dream. While this one didn't quite veer into "Jason Richardson dribbling off Carlos Boozer's head" territory from the shambolic game in 2004 in Atlanta, it came dangerously close at times.

"There was some thought of vomiting at halftime," said sophomores coach Lawrence Frank, an assistant with the Celtics by day. "But look, it's an All-Star Game."

The best of the night's many dunks was a bounced alley-oop pass from Wall that Griffin converted into a twisting reverse jam. The Clippers' star finished with 14 points in his 14 minutes, sitting out most of the second half while the crowd pleaded for his return.

"They didn't tell me I was going to have that kind of duress," said rookies coach Mike Budenholzer, an assistant with the Spurs. "But he's got a busy weekend. I'm sure he's going to do a lot of amazing things Saturday night and Sunday."

For the losers, San Antonio's DeJuan Blair had 28 points and 15 rebounds, finishing a dominating rookie-sophomore game "career." In 2010, he had 23 points and 22 rebounds as the rookie squad upset the sophs. This time around, his highlights included a self-pass off the backboard for a breakaway slam, but he often was the sophomores' only big man and frequently found himself overwhelmed on defense.

However, Blair's San Antonio teammate Gary Neal did nearly as much damage for the rookies. He scored 20 points on 15 shots, including three buckets in the final two minutes that basically clinched it for the rookies.

Last-minute addition James Harden was the game's other big star. He scored 30 for the sophs after replacing an injured Tyreke Evans, including two spectacular lefty flushes in transition. Harden also added a flourish to the "3-goggles" routine of fellow soph Wesley Matthews of Portland, taking three fingers to the floor after making the goggles on each of his four 3-pointers.

The sides were supposed to have Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire as assistant coaches, but the two didn't show up until late in the first half, as they were in Beverly Hills negotiating with team owners. The two did a short interview during a timeout after they arrived but never were asked about potentially being teammates by Monday.