As Florida Coach Billy Donovan once observed, all college basketball teams face adversity. It's how a team handles adversity that separates good seasons from bad.
Teammate Jon Hood saluted Enes Kanter as an example of how to handle adversity. Kanter sat in basketball limbo for months before learning recently that the NCAA had rejected the University of Kentucky's appeal on behalf of the player. Kanter would be permanently ineligible to play college basketball.
"I can't imagine anyone handling that situation any better," Hood said. "He handled it in the most mature way possible."
Hood nodded when asked if someone else might have quit rather than wait as UK filed appeals on a judgment that seemed unlikely to change.
"I could see where they could do that, I really could," Hood said of a player choosing not to make the fight. "At the same time, when you have a shadow of hope or light at the end of the tunnel that you may get to play, you're always going to work hard. You're always going to work toward that (goal) just in case that day comes."
Hood likened Kanter's situation to someone being denied something he loved.
Hood suggested that Kanter, who will stay involved as a student assistant coach, hasn't lost his sense of humor. The freshman from Turkey has playfully introduced himself to teammates saying, "I'm Coach Kanter."
The players do not follow this formality.
"No," Hood said. "You still have to call him Enes."
UK Coach John Calipari noted how a metaphorical black cloud seems to hover over Hood.
"He's trying, he's trying," Calipari said of Hood's efforts to be a hustling glue guy. "He's got a little buzzard luck. Everybody who shoots a ball on him makes it."
The UK coach seemed to make a reference to a lack of confidence when he said of Hood, "It's hard to unleash yourself when you're afraid of making a mistake."
Substance over style
When discussing Stacey Poole, Calipari said the freshman recently fumbled away a ball while trying to execute a round-house dunk rather than simply shooting a layup.
Calipari said he asked Poole why he didn't just lay in the ball. "'Because you don't understand my game,'" Calipari said Poole replied.
To which, Calipari said he answered, "I do. That's why I'm not playing you much."
LSU in Cat-mosphere
LSU has only two players who have ever played in Rupp Arena. Neither scored. Storm Warren played 18 scoreless minutes for the Tigers in Rupp Arena three years ago. He's hampered by tendinitis in his right Achillies' tendon and is not expected to play.
Malcolm White played two scoreless minutes at UK in 2008 for Ole Miss.
LSU Coach Trent Johnson dismissed the suggestion of his freshman-oriented team being intimidated by the "Cat-mosphere" of Rupp. "It's a neat atmosphere," he said. "But the thing that makes it neat is the guy running the show and the guys that are playing."
Matt Derenbecker, one of two freshman starters, said, "I've heard some stories about it. I heard their fans are hostile, and it's a very crazy environment to play in. My dad (who played at Vanderbilt) told me just go there and try not to focus on everything that's around you. When it comes down to it, it's just a court. Treat it like any other away game. It's going to just be a great experience for everybody on our team to play a game in an arena with such strong history."
LSU hopes to compensate for a lack of experience with heart and smarts.
"We knew from the beginning we were going to be younger than some teams and not as talented and athletic as some teams," Derenbecker said. "The coaches drilled it into us that we had to be mentally tough and we had to stay one step ahead of the other team in terms of anticipation. Even though we're young, we have a high basketball IQ on this team."
Added freshman Andre Stringer, the team's leading scorer with Ralston Turner injured, "I know we're a young team, but I think we have a big heart. Our coach instills that in us, and we have to come out and play hard every given night. We can't take any team for granted. The heart of our team is our heart."
■ UK's 27 straight home victories is the third-longest active streak. Kansas and Duke have won 68 and 29 straight home games.
■ Carter Blackburn and Mark Gottfried will call the game for the SEC Network.