Jarrod Polson was less than a year old when Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater sent shockwaves across the nation in Duke's thrilling 104-103 overtime triumph over Kentucky in the East Regional finals at the Spectrum in 1992.
He was just 10 when the two teams last played each other on Dec. 18, 2001 in East Rutherford, N.J., but is well aware of the history between the two teams. The rivalry resumes in a 9:30 p.m. tipoff in the State Farm Champions Classic tonight at the Georgia Dome.
“It’s really exciting,” Polson said Monday. “Obviously, the one Duke game where we didn’t have much success is always in the back of people’s minds so we want a little bit of revenge for that. Just playing against them is really cool.”
Polson admits that he is “a little too young for that rivalry” but knows what it means for Big Blue Nation.
“I don’t remember that rivalry as much as other rivalries, but in the minds of a lot of Kentucky fans this is a rivalry,” he said. “So, I think it will be fun for them to watch.”
Polson was a soothing presence for Kentucky in season-opening 72-69 triumph over Maryland last Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kentucky coach John Calipari expects the same kind of down-to-the-wire outings like his team experienced in the opener as the season progresses.
“What I liked is they made their run and it was a hostile crowd and we never got rattled. We just played,” the Kentucky coach said. “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, 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.”
Regardless of the past meetings between the two foes, the Blue Devils (1-0), who have won six of the past seven games against the Cats, will present a new challenge for Calipari's young squad.
“It’s going to be a hard game,” Calipari said. “I obviously don’t read or listen or hear any of that but I would imagine, people have asked me to drop Louisville and add Duke. No, they haven’t? If you’re playing Kansas, UCLA, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Indiana, those are all, they’re all hard games.
“This game is going to be very hard and our fans are going to be happy if we win and very sad if we lose. All I’m trying to do is, ‘alright here are the two or three things we’re going to think about against this team.’ We worked on us for two days; I don’t have time right now to work on other teams. We can’t go game-to-game; I’ve just got to figure out how I can get our team better.”
Since the opener, Calipari and his staff have emphasized rebounding, an area that gave the Cats issues against the Terrapins. Maryland outrebounded the much-taller Cats 54-38, prompting Calipari to make a renewed push on the importance of blocking out the opposition.
“It’s more or less of us just being conscious about, we follow the flight of the ball, which, I think that’s sixth grade, might be seventh grade,” he said. “You don’t follow the flight of the ball, you see the flight and you go find somebody and then go get the ball. But again, if we haven’t worked on it, I can’t be upset and we hadn’t.”
Although the contest has plenty of past history attached to it, Kentucky freshman Willie Cauley-Stein is taking it in stride.
“I haven’t heard about the rivalry, but every game we play is going to be a big rivalry,” he said. “Everyone wants to beat us so it doesn’t matter what game it is. We are still going to have a rivalry so whatever game it is, you have to come like it is a big rivalry.”