LOUISVILLE -- Kentucky is all about their freshman, right?
Last year it was the John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins show. This year it was supposed to be all about Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
But on Friday, up against archrival Louisville, at the YUM! Center it was Josh Harrellson’s light that shined the brightest.
Yes, Brandon Knight was sensational in Kentucky’s win. He scored 25 points and handled UK's point guard duties flawlessly. But he wasn’t the reason Kentucky got the win over Rick Pitino’s scrappy bunch.
It was Harrellson’s loud 23 points and 14 rebounds that made the difference.
It wasn’t Jones, Lamb or even Knight that received an emotional hug when they walked off the floor with under two minutes left in the game. It was Harrellson.
“I’m just so proud of him,” John Calipari said shortly after Kentucky knocked off Louisville by a score of 78 to 63. “He had 23 points and 14 rebounds. My gosh. It’s just an emotional rush seeing that.”
“At first he didn’t know what to say. He didn’t say nothing,” Harrellson recalled. “He didn’t know what to say. He just looked at me like ‘did you really just do this.’ He’s happy with me and he said ‘good job kid.’”
While Louisville focused their attention on trying to contain Jones, it was Harrellson that shook loose when the Cards sent doubles Jones’ way.
“We obviously wanted to take away Jones in the low post we just didn’t rotate to Harrellson in the low post,” Rick Pitino said.
“[Jones] kept getting doubled and I kept making myself available to him,” the 6-foot-10 senior said. “He just kept feeding me the ball and I kept finishing, so why not come back?”
While his point total was certainly impressive, his effort on the glass was a major factor. Harrellson controlled the backboard on both ends and snagged six offensive rebounds.
Keep in mind, due to injuries, Louisville is depleted in the post. But they have some talent at the five-spot. Terrence Jennings is quicker and more athletic than Harrellson, while Gorguis Dieng is longer and overall more talented.
But none of that mattered. Not to Harrellson, who came to Kentucky by way of Junior College basketball. He secured his position in the paint and fought for board after board.
“Everybody wants to beat Louisville and come out on a big stage on national television and show the whole country what you can do,” Harrellson said. “Just having a game like this is a big step for me.”
Harrellson, a native of St. Louis, taught Calipari a lesson on Friday. He admitted to neglecting the big man at times last season. Now, due to Harrellson’s conditioning and effort level, he’s becoming an important piece to Kentucky’s puzzle.
“What we coaches like to do is work with the good guys and the guys that are struggling we just push them aside,” Calipari said. “What he has shown me is every kid deserves everything we have to help them get better.”
Harrellson has certainly gotten better. And in a high profile setting the unheralded big man proved that Kentucky is more than just a couple of talented freshman.