As Kentucky's opening-game victory over Maryland suggested, reserve guard Jarrod Polson does not mind high-pressure situations.
"I just like that feeling of being nervous," he said Monday. " ... I've always liked that feeling, even though it is a little scary. I feel I play better when I'm in those situations."
With starting point guard Ryan Harrow ill, Polson played a key role in UK's 72-69 victory over Maryland last Friday. Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said the lightly-used Polson keyed UK's victory.
"I was nervous, but I was really enjoying it," Polson said.
By that standard, Kentucky's game against Duke on Tuesday night has even more of the ingredients that Polson likes. It's another nationally televised (ESPN) game. Dick Vitale again works the game from courtside. Only instead of inaugurating a new arena (Barclays Center), this time the setting is in a dome stadium (Georgia Dome).
"This will serve exactly that purpose," Polson said.
Polson told reporters that he received more than one hundred phone calls or texts in reaction to his play against Maryland. A text from former UK walk-on Cameron Mills hit home.
"Pretty cool because I looked up to him a lot," Polson said.
Polson's mother, Chrisi, planned to attend the Maryland game. But the weather in New York City — Hurricane Sandy followed by a northeaster — led her to cancel the drive from Nicholasville to Brooklyn. Like more than a few UK fans, the player's parents watched the UK-Maryland game with growing amazement.
"All of a sudden, it was all about him," George Polson said of his son. "I turned to my wife and said, 'Can you believe we're sitting here listening to Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps talk about our son, and he's the difference in the game?'
"It is surreal. Sort of like high school all over again, but on steroids."
Polson's father said he and his wife planned to drive to Atlanta to attend the Kentucky-Duke game.
"I would not miss playing Duke for anything," George Polson said, "except for mother nature."
Willie Cauley-Stein said he was unaware of the famous Christian Laettner shot that beat Kentucky 104-103 in the 1992 East Region finals.
To which, teammate Archie Goodwin smiled and said, "Willie is a different dude, for real. He doesn't watch TV."
Cauley-Stein offered a correction.
"I do watch TV," he said. "I watch a lot of TV, actually." But Cauley-Stein did not protest the "different dude" label.
"I'm like a hippie type of guy," he said with a smile. " ... Out-going. Talk to people. They think I'm weird."
Cauley-Stein credited teammate Kyle Wiltjer for transforming him from "really shy" to outgoing. The teammates collaboration on Web site videos made a difference.
"I became a free spirit," Cauley-Stein said.
28 offensive rebounds
While Maryland grabbed 28 offensive rebounds against UK, Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee did not see a big advantage for the Blue Devils.
"To me, it just says it's early in the season," he said of UK's opening-night rebounding. "They have big guys. They have athletic guys. Coach Cal will get on them and they'll get on the boards."
Besides, Plumlee added, Duke got outrebounded by Georgia State (33-31) in its opener. The Blue Devils had only six offensive rebounds in that game.
Return to Duke
Plumlee returned to Duke rather than enter the 2012 NBA Draft. He cited how Duke ended last season with a blowout home loss to North Carolina and then early exits from the ACC and NCAA tournaments. "I didn't want to leave on that note," he said.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski couched those defeats as a reason for self-examination.
Said Plumlee: "I don't know if you could have a meeting with yourself." But he said he asked himself, "Whether you want to be at Duke or not."
Duke is further along in settling on roles this year than last at this early stage, Plumlee said. "I'm not ready to say we're better or as good this early in the season."
Big opponents (plural)
Plumlee refused to get drawn into the suggestion of an intense UK-Duke rivalry. He suggested the game fit into Duke's customary goal of playing top-level opponents. He likened UK to opponents in the Maui Invitational, Michigan State or North Carolina.
"We've played in big games," he said. "There's not one team that's an end all."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com