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Polson capitalizes on opportunity, sparks comeback win over Belmont

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Jarrod Polson played 21 minutes in UK's 93-80 win over Belmont on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jarrod Polson played 21 minutes in UK's 93-80 win over Belmont on Saturday. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
He had only played 25 minutes all season, so Jarrod Polson had little reason to think Saturday would be the day John Calipari called on him for extended time.

Thankfully for Polson and his Kentucky team, he was ready anyway.

When the senior point guard checked in with nine minutes left in the first half and UK facing its largest deficit against Belmont at 25-14, Polson was thinking about delivering only one thing.

"Energy," Polson said.

With that approach, Polson completely changed the game with starter Andrew Harrison out due to two first-half fouls. In 90 seconds, UK cut Belmont's lead to six. By the end of the half -- with Polson playing every second -- the Wildcats closed to within two.

"I think we were down 10 or 11 when I got in and the crowd was kind of dead and they were hitting shots," Polson said. "So I just tried to push the ball and stuff like that and that's what Coach Cal wanted me to do. I feel like I did pretty good with that."

After halftime, Polson continued to play and play well as Harrison picked up his third and eventually fourth fouls. With Polson in an expanded role, No. 19/21 UK (9-3) surged past Belmont (8-5) to head into a short Christmas break with a 93-80 victory.

"I was really proud of Jarrod, and you say, what did Jarrod add to the game?" Calipari said. "... What did he add to the game? Energy. Energy, nothing else."

Surrounded by talented teammates, Polson didn't try to take advantage of his playing time by making highlight-reel plays. He took only two shots, scored only three points and had only one assist, but fans and teammates left Rupp Arena talking about Polson anyway.

"I think he's been here for four years so he knows what Coach wants," said Julius Randle, who scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. "He was just able to come in and bring in a big boost to us."

Outside of last season when he emerged as a steady option off the bench, Polson's primary role has been as a practice player, which makes games like Saturday's all the more rewarding.

"Mainly in practice, you guys don't see it, but I'm playing the backup point guard," Polson said. "So I'm running all the other plays against the first team. Just being able to play today with the team and getting a lot of minutes like I did was really fun for me."

But make no mistake, Polson isn't expecting to play 21 minutes every night from now on, and he's fine with that. He knows UK's ceiling is highest with Harrison at point guard and he's happy to help in the freshman's continued development.

"Obviously he's a really talented player and I've been here for a while now so I know exactly what Cal's wanting as far as pushing the ball," Polson said. "Anything I can do to help Andrew I try to do."

Polson did plenty for Harrison just by playing on Saturday.

"I sat (Harrison) next to me so I could talk him through what Jarrod was doing because he can do everything Jarrod can do to another level, but he's not," Calipari said.

He has unenviable task of trying to shadow Harrison every day in practice, so Polson knows that's true.

"He's just really talented and he's really a hard worker," Polson said. "I don't know, I feel like he's been playing pretty well. I think some people have been on him a little bit, but he's still learning and obviously has a lot of talent and I think he's going to be really good by the end of the season."

Harrison has had his moments when that talent has shone through, most recently last weekend against North Carolina in a 17-point, seven-assist, six-rebound performance. But he isn't there yet.

"I'm just going to keep working with him because at the end of the day, I want Andrew to be the best point guard in the country," Calipari said. "I don't want there to be any question. Right now most games he's not the best point guard on the court. We've just got to get it changed. He has the talent, he has the ability, he has the mindset, I've just got to keep working with him."

Whether it's in games or only on the practice floor, Calipari will be relying on Polson to help too.

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