The headline on ESPN says Kentucky escaped Maryland tonight, but it looked more like the Wildcats fought and clawed to find a way to win a game many thought they could lose-and it appeared they might be on their way after 15 point second half lead evaporated. I saw Nerlens Noel diving on the floor for loose balls, Kyle Wiltjer hitting big three pointer to stop a 15-0 Maryland run, and I saw Nicholasville, KY native Jarrod Polson – yes, JARROD DAMN POLSON – a 6’ 2” guard who had scored seven points in his entire career, score the grittiest 10 points I’ve seen in a long time.
Polson’s steal and layup with 3:34 left gave the Cats much needed breathing room and a four point lead, and then to top it off, he made two confident looking free throws with 7.7 seconds left to give UK a three point lead that ultimately proved to be the game’s final points.
Kentucky’s defense was very good. Maryland shot just 33% from the field and wouldn’t have even been in the game except they took 75 shots – 19 more than the Cats – due to poor rebounding by UK. Kentucky held the Terrapins to just 3-of-19 from beyond the arc. Defense has long been thought to be a strength of this team, and tonight’s game did nothing to change that.
Let’s not gloss this over-Kentucky looked exactly as we thought they might, and perhaps a little worse in some areas. Rebounding was terrible, and Maryland’s second chance points were a large part of why they were able to get back in it. UK was outrebounded 46-34, but it felt more like 70-34.
Free throw shooting was awful as well, at least until it counted. The Cats were 18-of-28 for 64%, Kyle Wiltjer and Polson sank the last four UK took. The offense was terrible at times and Harrow was shaky at the point.
But the bottom line is this – all of these things can be fixed. Offense is always behind defense in November. Free throw shooting should improve, and rebounding will improve as players learn their spots and roles.
ESPN may say UK escaped, and I guess you can look at it that way if you want. But what I saw was a very talented, albeit green, team that looked very, very good in spurts and looked like a team made of freshmen in spurts. I saw a team that hustled, dove on the floor for loose balls, and in the end, in a somewhat hostile environment, answered the challenge when things weren’t easy in the second half.
I’d say that’s a hell of a lot of good things to build on.go back