KENTUCKY 72, MARYLAND 69
Nov. 9, 2012
Barclays Center; Brooklyn, N.Y.
Kentucky guard Jarrod Polson scored a career-high 10 points in a 72-69 victory over Maryland (Matt McCarty/TCP)
The masterminds that brought basketball to Brooklyn envisioned nights of lively sellout crowds and scintillating games in their beautifully crafted $1 billion Barclays Center.
They got more than they could have ever dreamed on the first night college basketball invaded the NBA facility. Kentucky lost a 15-point second half lead, fell behind by two and then held strong down the stretch to score a 72-69 victory over Maryland in a lively season opener.
The blueprint didn't look anything like most Kentucky fans expected, as Jarrod Polson played the hero's role. The junior point guard steadied the Cats in the first half in place of an ill Ryan Harrow before sparking the late rally, capping it with a pair of free throws with to seal the game with 7.7 seconds remaining. Polson finished with 10 points, three assists, two rebounds, a steal and no turnovers.
“To be together for 22 practices and then to come in to a sellout and Dickie V. on the side and play the way we played was pretty good. Now, you see we're freshmen and young kids. We don't rebound like we need to. (Maryland) set an NCAA rebound in offensive rebounds. I've never seen anything like it. But I thought we fought and it was good for us. This was exactly what we need.”
“'He subbed at the table and I said, 'Who's that?' He hadn't played. He was the whole key to the game. I don't even know what year he is.'” – Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, on Kentucky guard Jarrod Polson
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“I was just waiting on the opportunity. Ryan had been sick so I thought I might get the opportunity. I just wanted to run the offense the best I could.” – UK guard Jarrod Polson
Jarrod Polson? Jarrod Polson?! Jarrod Polson??!! If you claim you knew the junior guard would be on the court for extended minutes in Kentucky's opener, let alone be the deciding factor in a thrilling finish then you're lying. No one saw this coming. For one night the former walk-on was the best point guard on the floor for either team, scoring more points in one game than he had his entire career to this point. He quadrupled his career field goals made, tripled his career assists and provided two of the most critical plays of the game in the final four minutes. Take a bow Mr. Polson, you deserve it.
Polson had his fingerprints all over a pair of plays that kept Kentucky possessions alive and ultimately ended in critical points for the Cats. The first came when Polson slipped in amongst the trees and tipped in a Nerlens Noel miss to give UK a 64-63 lead with 5:09 remaining. Barely a minute later Polson stripped Maryland forward Pe'Shon Howard as he rebounded a Noel missed free throw, deftly converting a reverse lay-in to push the Cats' lead to four. Maryland never recovered after that.
28 – John Calipari had to love this game for the simple fact that his team won but showed plenty of warts for him to go to work on. The Cats were dominated on the glass, getting out-rebounded 54-38 on the night, but the main reason the Terrapins were still close enough to make a second half run was their ability to pound the offensive glass. Maryland hauled in 28 offensive rebounds, but somehow managed just 19 second chance points. That will surely be a point of emphasis in the Joe Craft Center this week.
Kentucky emerged in new, special edition uniforms for its season opener. The white uniforms had silver trim down the side but were highlighted by eight silver stars above the nameplate on the back of the jersey, representative of the eight national championships Kentucky now owns. The Cats also stitched a '12' in the final box of the now-familiar 'Pattern of Excellence' logo on the front waistline of the shorts. Maryland also wore new uniforms, a gray tortoise-shell look done by Under Armour.
What a tremendous atmosphere for a season opener, and one this Kentucky team will undoubtedly gain significant strength from having survived. The crowd was overwhelming Maryland and as the Terrapins staged their second half run it would have been easy for the young Cats to fold up shop. They didn't, instead making just enough plays to get a win and gain a morsel of intel on what they'll see most every night on the road this season.
Kentucky (1-0) will travel to Atlanta to face Duke in the Champions Classic. Tip will be approximately 9:30 after the conclusion of Michigan State-Kansas in the opener at the Georgia Dome.