ATLANTA (WDRB) -- University of Kentucky coach John Calipari has spent much of this young basketball season trying to fit the pieces of his talented but young team together. For tonight's 9:30 p.m. showdown with No. 9-ranked Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic in the Georgia Dome, he's already having to shuffle his pieces.
Point guard Ryan Harrow will not play in the game because of a lingering illness, according to UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy. That means little-used junior Jarrod Polson could see significant time against a seasoned defensive team. But Polson isn't Calipari's only option at the point.
Harrow's absence also means that freshman Archie Goodwin will see his role change just one game into his first college season, and that senior transfer Julius Mays may be asked to run the team in stretches.
All are intriguing options. Polson was the man of the hour, coming out of nowhere to score 10 points in sparking UK's season-opening win over Maryland.
Actually, Polson didn't come out of nowhere. He came out of Jessamine County, and he's spent the past two seasons battling Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague in practice.
Against Maryland, he ran the team, made shots where needed and even added a go-ahead put-back. Since the preseason, Polson has been showing that he's ready to contribute.
"Honestly, who knows (how much he'll play)?" Polson said. "I just know if I get my number called again I will have to be ready. I have been working hard in practice the last couple days so hopefully I will be ready."
The kid who looks like he's living every Kentucky boy's dream is actually an elder statesmen among these Wildcats. They're facing a Duke squad with three talented seniors. UK's most experienced starter is a sophomore, Kyle Wiltjer.
But the Wildcats are not short on talent. That's where Goodwin comes in. He's the team's designated gunner, if there is such a thing in a balanced Calipari attack.
Goodwin is the team's best slasher and most natural scorer.
But tonight, he'll also be called upon to create, to play a role much like Brandon Knight played beautifully for most of his freshman season. Whether Goodwin can adopt that mentality in such a short time is a question. But his ability to do it shouldn't be in question.
One of the more revealing plays of his first UK game was a quick drive down the right side of the lane against Maryland. But instead of getting to the rim, he stopped short, lofted a little lob toward the middle of the lane, then pumped his fist as Nerlens Noel rose up to slam the ball home.
Goodwin says that's not his first instinct, but that he can fill the role: "It is different but it's not something that I mind doing. I don't mind doing it all and I am not a selfish player. Anything that I can just do for us to get a win, I will do."
It's that kind of play that Goodwin will need to deliver tonight, and that ability to penetrate that had Calipari thinking about Goodwin at point guard even before Harrow's illness.
"That's (ability to get to the rim) why I like him at point guard," Calipari said. "That's what we had with Tyreke (Evans) at Memphis. That's the kind of stuff you want, because the guy with the ball can score any time he wants. I also like Jarrod (Polson) at point guard and moving him off the ball. I like Julius (Mays) there too, because he is so steady because he makes the right shots and plays and is never in a hurry."
Mays has been reliable at just about everything. He doesn't turn the ball over, has good awareness on the court and may bring the best element of leadership of the trio, even if he's only been on campus a few months.
In any event, Calipari is already having to tinker, but that's expected. One reason he scheduled two tough games to open the season was that he was counting on his team being exposed, so he would know what to work on in December.
"When you watch Duke, they're a veteran team, they know how they are playing, they do a great job of posting the ball, they do a great job of spacing the court, they use pick-and-rolls for threes and if you leave corners, which you guys know that's one of my no-no's, if you leave a corner it is automatic buried three," Calipari said. "They put people down there to shoot them; their fours are stretched fours like Kyle Wiltjer. They play really hard, they deny, they try to steal, they switch, they switch out of bounds plays, they play pick-and-roll defense funky. Yet for two days we worked on us, I didn't worry about Duke and then when you start zeroing in on Duke, I can't give my guys 30 things today to think about. We're going to do what we do, there are two or three things we're going to do and if they expose something, what did Maryland expose? Rebounding, they exposed it so we came back and worked on it. Now we're going to finish the Duke game and you're going to say, 'Well they exposed this and this.' Well, you're right, now we're going to get back and work on it."
Beyond the X's and O's -- and Calipari said the team went two days without working on offense after the Maryland game, in order to work on other issues -- UK will need to maintain its poise on a big-stage against a ranked opponent. Calipari liked the way his team competed against Maryland, how it didn't get flustered when the Terrapins made a run, and how it responded late to preserve the win. He'll need to see even more of that against Duke.
"What I liked is they made their run and it was a hostile crowd and we never got rattled," Calipari said. "We just played. That's what it's going to have to be like because I would tell you that we are going to be in a lot of games like that, a lot of games, where it's in doubt with a minute and half to go. Two years ago that happened to us and we lost six games in our league and they were all one, two, three-point games. We lost six of them. I would tell you that we're going to be in a lot of games like that so this was a good one to try to figure things out."
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. Quotes provided by the University of Kentucky and UKathletics.com.
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