Maryland almost gets No. 3 Kentucky. losing 72-69
NEW YORK -- Maryland coach Mark Turgeon wasn't mincing any words after the Terrapins' first game of the season, a 72-69 loss to No. 3 Kentucky.
After overcoming horrid first half shooting and then using a 15-0 run to get in front of the Wildcats, Maryland fell short.
"We're going to win," Turgeon said. "We didn't win tonight but we are going to win."
Maryland put on an impressive rebounding effort against the Wildcats, finishing with a 54-38 advantage including 28-13 on the offensive end.
What the Terrapins needed was one or two more 3-pointers to fall in a 3-for-19 effort from behind the line.
"They missed a lot of 3s they will make," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They were one of two 3s from beating us."
Seven-foot-1 sophomore center Alex Len had career-highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds.
"I feel much more comfortable," Len said. "I got a little bit stronger over the summer and I worked really hard to put some weight and it helped me."
Calipari said Len "was a beast. He's going to be really good."
Kentucky junior Jarrod Polson had 10 points -- three more than he had in career at Kentucky coming into this season -- and made the hustle play and the clinching free throws in the second game of the Barclays Center Classic, the first college basketball games played in the new arena in Brooklyn.
"I was just waiting on the opportunity with (starting guard) Ryan (Harrow) feeling a little sick with the flu," Polson said. "I focused in on practice and was just trying to run the team as best as I could."
OK, so how did the guy who is not a member of the highly rated current freshman class or even one of the few upperclassmen on the team really feel.
"I'll be honest I was nervous but at the same time it was good to get out there and play again with this group of guys," Polson said. "It was fun."
Kyle Wiltjer, a sophomore, led Kentucky with 19 points while Archie Goodwin, the only one of the four freshmen to score in double figures, finishing with 16 points for the defending national champions, who looked to be in control taking a 49-36 at halftime and then led by 15 points with 17:22 to play.
"I was pleased with the way we started," Calipari said. "I told them at halftime that they were going to make a run and they did. We've had 22 practices, we were playing before a sellout and had Dickie V. doing the game on TV. I was impressed with the way we grinded it out."
Len made a rare three-point play -- he made the first free throw then rebounded his own miss of the second -- to bring the Terrapins within 70-69 with 8.9 seconds left.
Polson was fouled with 7.7 seconds left and made two free throws for a 72-69 lead.
Maryland's Pe'Shon Howard missed the final shot but it was only a 2-point attempt.
"We weren't very good in the first half and I thought Kentucky was great," Turgeon said. "We weren't ready for the big stage but in the second half we executed better."
Before the game, Calipari presented a check for $1 million to the American Red Cross to help victims of Superstorm Sandy. The money was raised in telethons in Kentucky set up by Calipari and was to help those from Brooklyn, a New York City borough which received extensive damage from the storm.
Almost all the attention coming into the game was about Kentucky's recruiting class, one which the fans there hoped would lead them to a national championship as last season's freshman class did. But the Wildcats had six players drafted, including Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who were taken No. 1 and 2 overall.
This class still has talent but they looked like freshmen, especially coming down the stretch when the veterans -- Wiltjer and Polson -- made the key plays to keep Maryland from taking the lead over the final 5 minutes.
Maryland had a terrible shooting first half, finishing 13 of 44 (29.5 percent) -- including missing all 11 3-point attempts. Kentucky, on the other hand, was having a great half from the floor. The Wildcats made 18 of 31 from the field (58.1percent) and they were 5 of 7 from beyond the arc in taking a 49-36 lead.
With most of the sellout crowd of 17,732 on the side of the Terrapins, the shooting turned for both teams.
Suddenly Maryland was hitting shots, even three 3-pointers, and it kept crashing the boards relentlessly. Maryland was missing shots but enough of the rebounds went its way that the Terrapins were able to go on a 21-4 run that gave them a 59-57 lead, their first since the game's opening minutes.
There were five lead changes from there and the last came on a follow by Polson that made it 64-63 with 5:18 left. That Kentucky was even close was amazing since the Wildcats made one of 11 from the floor and committed three turnovers while the Terrapins were on their run.
Kentucky finished the second half 6 for 25 from the field (24.0 percent) and made only 1 of 6 on 3-point attempts but it was the rebounding that Calipari wanted to talk about.
"Their best play in the second half was to miss, rebound, miss, rebound, miss rebound and score," Calipari said. "In the second half we couldn't make a basket. But we're learning. We got manhandled a little bit. We're not playing tough enough and I don't know how we are going to fix that."
Kentucky is 90-19 in season openers, while Maryland had a streak of 10 straight season-opening wins snapped.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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