When it comes to calling fouls, Kentucky Coach John Calipari takes a zero tolerance position.
He made that clear when asked Friday about 195 fouls called in UK’s last four games.
“People must be fouling,” he said almost with a shrug.
A foul is a foul is a foul, Calipari said, so call 195 fouls if 195 fouls are committed.
“There’s a forearm on a drive, there’s a body check on a big, those should be automatic calls,” Calipari said. “Call the fouls on both teams. If one team is fouling and the other team is not, that’s when you have those kind of fouls called. Because you’re feeling like, I can’t call them all against the other team. But why not if they’re fouling every play?”
Of course, one man’s foul is another man’s display of competitive zeal.
“This is another team that will be scrappy,” Calipari said. “They’re not backing down. They’re coming in with expectations (of winning).”
Derek Willis, one of the heroes of Kentucky’s victory at scrappy Mississippi State on Tuesday, suggested that opponents try to narrow the talent gap against Kentucky through — depending on your viewpoint — fouling or physical effort.
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin did not object to the suggestion that physical play through greater effort can be a means of defeating superior talent.
“I think that’s a talent in itself,” he said Thursday. “Some people are gifted in how they think. Some people are gifted in how fast they run. Some people are gifted in some other skill. Some people are gifted in a relentless work ethic, and we recruit to that. That’s important to us.”
Martin is a disciple of Bob Huggins, whose West Virginia team is known as “Press Virginia.” As in pressure making the opponent uneasy.
Wyatt Thompson, the play-by-play announcer for Kansas State, saw Martin’s K-State teams close a talent gap against powerful opponents.
“I believe toughness can make up, at least a little bit, for lack of skill,” Thompson said. “And I think that’s kind of what he did here. When we played Kansas and Texas, truthfully, more times than not, we were out-athlete-ed. They had better players. Somehow, you have to make up for that.”
Mark Whitehead, the head of officials for the Southeastern Conference, attended the UK-Mississippi State game. He saw 52 fouls called and 46 free throws shot.
The officiating this season reflects an attempt to create greater freedom of movement and reduce physical play, Whitehead said.
Whatever happens Saturday and the rest of the season, Calipari suggested he will not make scapegoats of the referees. Although he did say referees can be susceptible to trying to even the calls even if one team fouls more.
“I don’t blame officials,” the UK coach said. “They’re not perfect. I appreciate when an official comes over and says, ‘I missed that.’”
Tai Wynyard seemed to suggest that Kentucky is at a disadvantage when it comes to officiating.
“Kentucky is always going to get a lot of calls on them,” he said. “Like every game I go to, it’s always tough for us to be able to thrive.”
When asked to explain this perceived disadvantage, Wynyard said, “Kentucky has that huge status. I feel that’s kind of the thing we have to deal with. I just feel like people look at it differently.”
Willis said that Kentucky will be more talented than opponents, but opponents may try to win with physical play. Associate coach Kenny Payne had an answer, Willis said.
Play well enough to build a lead of blowout proportions. Then the opponent cannot bridge the talent gap.
No. 24 South Carolina at No. 5 Kentucky
When: 6 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: South Carolina 15-3 (5-0 SEC), Kentucky 16-2 (6-0)
Series: Kentucky leads 50-11
Last meeting: Kentucky won 89-62 on Feb. 13, 2016, at Columbia, S.C.