BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When asked after the victory over Maryland what Kentucky might seek to improve in upcoming practices, opening-game hero Jarrod Polson answered directly and succinctly.
"Rebounding," he said. Reporters who just watched UK beat Maryland 72-69 Friday night chuckled knowingly.
Maryland grabbed a whopping 28 offensive rebounds against the Cats. That marked the most offensive rebounds by a UK opponent since Feb. 10, 2001, when Mississippi State got 29. (No UK team has had that many offensive rebounds since getting 28 against aptly named High Point on Dec. 27, 2000.)
If Maryland had made a few more than three of 19 three-point shots, Kentucky would have lost.
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"I've never seen anything like it," UK Coach John Calipari said of Maryland's offensive rebounding. "I don't even know if they should run plays. Shoot it and rebound. Shoot it and rebound. And then score."
Nineteen of Maryland's offensive rebounds came in the first half. Otherwise, Kentucky could have built an insurmountable lead.
Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon linked his team's rebounding prowess to Kentucky's emphasis on shot-blocking. An effort to block shots, if unsuccessful, takes a potential rebounder away from the basket.
"Because they try to block everything, we got a lot of offensive rebounds" Turgeon said.
Calipari did not buy the explanation. If the defense rotates properly, Kentucky can attempt to block shots and rebound misses, he said.
"We never helped the helper," the UK coach said of the failure to rotate a player into position to rebound. " ... You get guys who don't think it's their responsibility to go rebound."
Noting Alex Poythress' seven rebounds, Calipari said, "He should have had 12."
Of Archie Goodwin's two rebounds, Calipari said, "You've got to be kidding me."
It's certainly not a lack of size (three players listed at 6-foot-10 or taller) nor athleticism that kept Kentucky from limiting Maryland's rebounding.
"To me, ... five guys who can jump over the square (above the basket) should not give up 30 offensive rebounds," Calipari said in only a slight exaggeration. "That's just how it is. We'll figure it out."
Maryland appeared to outwork and outmuscle Kentucky en route to a 54-38 rebounding advantage. Forward James Padgett offered no exotic reason for the rebounding edge.
"Just going after the ball," he said. "Coach (Turgeon) emphasized rebounding. ... do whatever we have to do to get balls."
Not counting fast breaks and second (or third or fourth or fifth) chances, Maryland scored only six baskets in the first half.
UK got "manhandled a little bit," Calipari said. "Maryland wedged us under the goal and we let them."
The next opponent, Duke, is no shrinking violet. Calipari noted how the Blue Devils typically deny the routine perimeter pass.
"My concern is we're not playing hard enough," the UK coach said. "Stopping on possessions. We're not physically tough enough. And I don't know if I can do anything about that other than go in games and see if they're going to fight."
Calipari described the Tuesday game against Duke in Atlanta in terms of drawing a line in the sand.
"Either you're going to fight or we're going to lose," he said. "They're denying every pass. If you don't get a body on somebody to get open, you're not going to get open."
The rebounding disparity against Maryland put a sobering perspective on Polson's heart-warming night as UK hero.
"Great story," Calipari said, "but we gave up 30 offensive rebounds."
A moment later, the UK coach reminded listeners, and perhaps himself, that Kentucky is a freshman-dependent team requiring a season-long evolution into national contender. Calipari sounded ready to buy that kind of perspective.
"We're playing with a bunch of young guys," he told reporters, "so come on."