By KEITH TAYLOR, firstname.lastname@example.org
KNOXVILLE — Jarrod Polson has been known for giving Kentucky a lift off the bench this season. Even in times of adversity, Polson did his best to make a difference.
The junior guard made the first start of his collegiate career Saturday and proved to be somewhat of a silver lining in the Wildcats’ disappointing 88-58 loss to Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Polson started in place of Ryan Harrow and finished with 11 points, a career-high.
His performance came when Kentucky entered Knoxville as a wounded animal. The Volunteers took full advantage and handed coach John Calipari his worst defeat in his four years as coach of the Wildcats. Even though Calipari had an idea of what to expect following a practice session Friday, he knew Kentucky’s first outing since losing standout center Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury in a 69-52 loss to Florida last week in Gainesville wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the circumstances surrounding the contest, Polson gave the Wildcats a boost even when the odds were stacked against the Wildcats. His performance drew praise from Calipari.
“He battled,” Calipari said. “Jarrod has played against the guys we’ve had the past few years and Julius (Mays) is a veteran. They understand that you don’t get your head down.”
While on the floor, Polson did just that and took advantage of his first collegiate career start. He made three of four shots from the field, including a 3-pointer. The West Jessamine High School product also made all four of his shots from the free-throw line and grabbed four rebounds. He had just one turnover and collected one steal in 22 minutes.
Polson’s previous career-high was a 10 points in Kentucky’s season-opening victory over Maryland. Thrust back into the lineup following a season-ending injury to Nerlens Noel, Polson was part of Calipari’s backup plan, but other members of the squad failed to follow suite.
Tennessee guard Skylar McBee got his first true look at Polson and came away impressed. In the first meeting between the two teams, Polson played just seven minutes in Kentucky’s 75-65 win over the Volunteers on Jan. 15 at Rupp Arena. This time, McBee got a better view of Polson’s ability on the court.
“I think Polson is a really good player,” McBee said. “He does a lot of dirty work for them. He gets in there and gets rebounds and he does a good job of passing, getting to the basket and finishing inside for a small guy.”
McBee also was impressed with Polson’s hustle plays, a trademark he’s been known for himself during his tenure at Tennessee.
“He plays hard,” McBee said. “He’s smart and you can tell he’s a very smart player and he plays hard all of the time.”
Tennessee’s Trae Golden also took notice of Polson’s performance and was impressed with his ability to breakdown Tennessee’s defense.
“He’s a great guard,” Golden said. “He’s good for them and he’s a good guard.”
Following the loss, Polson said the Wildcats have to “keep working” and find some way “to fix this.”
“We just have to stay positive,” Polson said. “We’ve got to find something that will help us and hopefully we’ll find it.”