After leading South Carolina to an unprecedented three straight victories over Kentucky, Devan Downey has a good idea of the bad reception he'll receive in Rupp Arena on Thursday night.
"I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a not-too-warm welcome," he said with comedic understatement on Tuesday. "I know it's all in fun. But I've gotten my share of hate mail and Facebook messages from Kentucky fans."
When asked to describe the messages, Downey said, "If I tell you some of the stuff I've heard, you might lose your job for printing it in the paper."
With some prodding, Downey acknowledged there was "some ugly and racial" tones in some of the messages originating from Kentucky. He said he laughs it off.
"It's going to take more than some guy sitting at his computer and writing me a message to hurt my feelings," he said.
Suffice it to say Kentucky fans did not like Downey hitting the game-winning shot to give South Carolina a 78-77 victory in Rupp Arena last season.
"Ever since that game at Kentucky, they really dislike me," Downey said of UK fans.
Downey did his popularity no favors in the rematch when his 21 points and five assists helped the Gamecocks humiliate UK in Columbia.
Then Downey stamped himself a full-fledged Cat-killer last month when his 30 points led South Carolina to a 68-62 victory over No. 1 and previously unbeaten Kentucky.
Normally, opposing fans around the Southeastern Conference send pre-game messages that warn Downey about how their favorite team will beat South Carolina, he said. Then after he plays well, the fans give him his due.
"Except for Kentucky," Downey said. "After that game (last month), they weren't saying anything positive. After that game, they were saying how I messed up their perfect season. The Big Blue Nation hates me. This, that and the other.
"One fan said he better not find out what hotel we're staying at. He's going to be waiting for me."
After the long, taxing season, the last thing Downey needs is a confrontation with a knuckleheaded Kentucky fan.
This season has been an obstacle course for South Carolina. The season-ending injury to Dominique Archie, a potential All-League player. The dismissal of power player Mike Holmes.
Downey responded by scoring 30 or more points in five of the Gamecocks' first seven SEC games.
But since that blazing start in league play, Downey and South Carolina have cooled. His scoring slipped. So did his efficiency. Talk ensued of the little guy (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) with the big heart wearing down.
"You know, I'm trying to keep grinding," Downey said. "That's all I can do. I think I'm feeling good. I just can't listen to the outside world when they tell me my body is giving in to all this wear and tear."
South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn suggested on an SEC teleconference Monday that Downey is a victim (if that's the right word) of his own previous success. In the last five games, Downey has averaged 22.2 points. No other league player is better. But compared with his earlier average in excess of 30 points, it looks almost pedestrian.
"He was playing at a level, and making shots, that was probably unparalleled in all of college basketball," Horn said. "I don't know there's been that great a drop-off."
Yet Downey, who was making 46.8 percent of his shots (44.2 percent of three-point attempts) through the first six league games, has made only 30.2 percent of his shots (28.6 percent from beyond the arc) in the last five games.
"Every game you don't have 30, you don't look good," Downey said. "The shots are not falling lately. I still think I'm trying everything I can do to get my team over the hump. I'm going to continue to do that."
In Rupp Arena last season, Downey got South Carolina over the hump in memorable fashion. He hit the game-winner over UK's best perimeter defender, Jodie Meeks.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Downey said. "It was a game-winner. Game-winners stick around awhile."
Meeks likened Downey to two of the NBA's most talented, if diminutive, stars.
"He has a lot of heart," the former UK star said. "Anytime a guy is that small — Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas — they have a lot of heart and a lot of determination because they weren't given a lot of stuff in their career."