As if to answer his coach's repeated calls to stand up to bullying opponents, freshman guard Archie Goodwin threw a few verbal jabs in advance of Saturday's showdown with Missouri.
"This is, like, a play-maker's game, basically," he said. "We have to go out there with the mind-set we have the best guards. Because we are (the best)."
In claiming his team's superiority, Goodwin affirmed a reporter's premise that the Missouri-Kentucky game — and, according to incessant NCAA Tournament conjecture, the chance to grab the attention of the Selection Committee — will rest with the backcourts.
All eyes figure to be on Missouri's Phil Pressey, the Southeastern Conference's Pre-season Player of the Year, and Kentucky's point guard, Ryan Harrow.
"That's the matchup everybody's been waiting for: us two," Harrow said after the Vanderbilt game Wednesday. It was (to be kind) something of an overstatement, given Harrow's benching the previous weekend at Tennessee, where he went scoreless and had no assists while fouling out in 18 minutes.
"I know I'm going to work hard," he said. "And I know (Pressey is) going to work hard. We'll just have to see who comes out on top."
Although Pressey leads the SEC in assists (6.6 per game), Goodwin seemed underwhelmed.
"He's all right," the UK shooting guard said before adding, "but I have more confidence in my point guard than I do in him. And I think I'd take my point guard (over Pressey)."
UK Coach John Calipari interpreted Goodwin's comments as an attempt to bolster Harrow's confidence. "He's probably trying to build up our guy," Calipari said. "Just to tell him, 'Look, I'm behind you.'"
Actually, it's who's in front of whom that might make the big difference.
Both point guards appear more dangerous as penetrators than perimeter shooters. Hence, the importance of keeping the opponent outside the lane.
Pressey has made only one of 23 three-point shots in six previous SEC road games. Harrow has made four of 21 shots from beyond the arc in the last 11 games.
When asked about staying in front of Pressey, Calipari said, "I think our guards will be fine. It's a challenge. And it's a challenge for him to stay in front of our guards."
After Nerlens Noel's season-ending knee injury last week, Kentucky spread out its offense in hopes of creating more driving lanes.
"He (Calipari) knows a lot of people can't guard me or Archie off the dribble," Harrow said after scoring 12 points against Vanderbilt on Wednesday. "So either we're going to have a shot, or we're going to create a shot for somebody else. By opening the court, that makes it easier for the offense to flow."
Calipari suggested the spread floor also put the onus on his guards as defenders.
"No excuses," he said. "The court's open. Get by him. He's getting by you. Get by him. ... No excuses. No cop-outs."
Kentucky (18-8 overall, 9-4 SEC) has struggled to contain perimeter players, most memorably when Elston Turner scored 40 for Texas A&M, but also against Duke's Seth Curry (23 points) in November and Tennessee's Trae Golden (24 points) last weekend.
Before Kentucky played Vanderbilt, Harrow went to Calipari and asked to be returned to the starting lineup. He'd gone scoreless (with one assist and three turnovers) in the previous two games.
"I just sat down with a couple of people and they said I needed to go talk to Cal and set up a meeting with him instead of him setting up a meeting with me," Harrow said. "I went and talked to him, and I was a little nervous. I said what I needed to say and he had all the answers after that. We had an understanding after that and everything was good.
"I was just letting him know that I'm all in and I'm going to listen to him. And that I'm here for my team and I'm going to do what's best for the team."
Harrow said his motives were more than personal.
"I know how much this team needs me, and when I'm not playing well, you see the end result," he said. "And I didn't want him to feel as if I was giving up on the team. I just wanted to let him know that, whatever he needed me to do ... I was going to do it and I was going to play hard."
Goodwin suggested that confidence was a key for Harrow.
When he plays with a lot of confidence, he's probably the best point guard in the nation," Goodwin said.
And Missouri's guards?
"They have good guard play," Goodwin said. "But it's nothing we haven't seen. So we should be fine."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com