There are plenty of new faces for John Calipari's team, but despite a squandered lead in the second half against Maryland, Kentucky started their season the same way they finished last year -- with a win.
Playing in front of Jay-Z at a packed Barclays Center, the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats edged out the Maryland Terrapins, 72-69, in the marquee game of college basketball's opening night. It appeared a remade and reloaded Wildcats team might run away with it in the first half, but a run by the Terps pushed it to the final shot in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Kentucky shot lights out in the first half to build a 13-point lead after 20 minutes. But Maryland instantly went on a run to open up the second half and pull things even against the young Wildcats. The Terps closed a 15-point gap in less than nine minutes to set up a back-and-forth struggle down the stretch.
John Calipari's club took the momentum at the under 4:00 timeout, closing out the Terps for the win. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer was the forgotten blue chip prospect in last year's incredible recruiting class, but he's already asserting himself in his second year with the 'Cats. Wiltjer stretched the floor at the Barclays Center, drilling four of six three-pointers and leading Kentucky with 19 points. Freshman Archie Goodwin joined Wiltjer in double figures, pouring in 16 points in his UK debut.
Maryland's Alex Len, a sophomore center, entered the season with heightened expectations as Mark Turgeon continues to build his program in College Park. Len had some eligibility problems at the start of his freshman campaign, and occasionally showed impressive flashes of skill for his 7'1 frame. His performance on Friday night has to have Terps fans excited about the prospects of his second year with the Terps. Len put on an array of moves in the post, carrying the Maryland offense with 23 points while the guards struggled on the outside. He also notched a double-double at the start of the second half before finishing with 12 rebounds. He set career highs for both points and boards.
Led by Len, Maryland enjoyed a huge advantage on the glass against the young Kentucky frontcourt. That disparity and effort to get to the ball kept the Terps in the game and was a large reason for the comeback. Maryland out-rebounded the UK frontcourt, 46-34, led by touted freshman Nerlens Noel.
Newcomer Dez Wells, a late transfer from Xavier, had a debut to forget with Maryland. Wells is a multi-faceted player on both ends of the floor, but he was just two of 12 from the field for eight points. He also split a pair of free-throws in the final minute that proved costly. On the other end, Kentucky hit their final five attempts from the charity stripe to seal up the season-opening win.
Calipari's young team will be tested yet again in their second game of the season, facing Duke in a Tuesday-night showdown at the Georgia Dome. Maryland will host Morehead State at the Comcast Center on Monday night.