Three takeaways from Kentucky's season-opening 72-69 win over Maryland in the Barclays Center Classic at Brooklyn, N.Y.:
The Wildcats' depth – or perceived lack thereof – was a major concern for the Big Blue Nation heading into the season. Many wondered aloud whether UK would ever go more than seven deep in tightly-contested games, but John Calipari may have found another reliable option in the most unlikely of sources. Former walk-on Jarrod Polson scored a career-high 10 points, including six down the stretch after UK had squandered a 15-point lead, to help rescue the Cats. His clutch free throws with 7.7 seconds left helped ice the game and produced an "Aw, shucks" moment for the former Nicholasville (Ky.) West Jessamine star on the big stage in NYC. Polson more than doubled the minutes played by starting point guard Ryan Harrow, whose UK debut (0-4 FG, 0 points, 2 assists) was not what anyone had anticipated. It begs the question: are you more encouraged about Polson's emergence or concerned about Harrow's performance? Before you answer, think back to last year's hand-wringing over Marquis Teague prior to the holidays. It's early, folks. The minutes Polson logs against Duke on Tuesday in Atlanta will be interesting to monitor.
As shocking as the Polson storyline was in Brooklyn, it wasn't the biggest surprise of the night in my view. That honor goes to the absolute beatdown Maryland gave the Cats in the rebounding column. Kentucky was fortunate to escape the house that Jay-Z built with a W after watching the Terps own the boards by a 54-38 count. An eye-popping 28 of those came on the offensive glass for Maryland, leading to 19 second-chance points and a stunning 75-56 edge in field goal attempts. Fortunately for UK, the overall defense remained stingy. Maryland managed to shoot only 33 percent and saw the Cats reject 11 shots while altering countless others with their length and athleticism. Coach Cal deemed the rebounding performance "embarrassing," but you get the sense that he relishes the opportunity to use it as teaching opportunity for the young team. Look for that aspect to drastically improved next week against Coach K's Blue Devils.
THE ‘VET' STEPS UP:
Not too many teams across the country refer to their sophomores as "veterans," but such is life in the BBN due to a steady stream of one-and-done stars to the NBA. Kyle Wiltjer did not a start a single game last season, but he's no doubt being counted on for leadership and experience with so many newcomers at UK. He answered the bell Friday when it appeared the Cats were on the ropes. Wiltjer's 3-pointer with 11:15 to go ended a six-minute scoreless drought for the Cats after Maryland had tied the game at 53. Eight of his team-high 19 points game down the stretch. After a couple of nondescript showings in UK's exhibition games, Wiltjer showed he's willing to step up when his young teammates experience growing pains.
Three-Pointers: UK vs. Maryland
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