An elbow caught Boise State forward Ryan Watkins flush.
"So I got in his face a little bit," Watkins said of his reaction. "The heat of the moment kind of came over me."
Only upon reflection did it dawn on Watkins that he had gone nose-to-nose with Metta World Peace, aka Ron Artest, one of the tough guys of the NBA.
The setting was the Drew League, a summer competition played in South Central Los Angeles. Such NBA ballers, as players are known colloquially, as Kevin Durant, Stephen Jackson, DeMar DeRozan and Baron Davis have played in the league.
With Kentucky Coach John Calipari repeatedly calling for more toughness, Watkins' reaction to the elbow suggested he had the necessary grit. Although he wasn't so sure a physical confrontation defines the kind of toughness coaches want.
"If you can get the job done, that's tough, too," he said. "There are quite a few different definition of tough. (Something that happens) in the heat of the game, that's not about being tough."
Watkins averaged a double-double going into the game at Kentucky: 10.1 points and 10.4 rebounds.
"I just try to play hard and try to get every rebound I can get," he said of his production. "That's basically how I play."
Boise State Coach Leon Rice saw Watkins' reaction to the elbow as an example of fearless resolve.
"He embodies our team as far as we don't back down," Rice said. "We're not afraid."
Rice initially resisted recruiting Watkins. Newly hired by Boise State four years ago, he did not fall in love at first sight.
"No way," he said. "We're not playing with that in the Mountain West. He's not good enough."
Rice's assistants insisted he take a second and third look.
"I grew to really appreciate what he is and how hard he works," Rice said. "His soft hands and his will to win."
Watkins, who had also considered Northwestern, Washington State and Boston College, became a starter in the middle of his freshman season.
"The best thing about him is he's never been satisfied," Rice said. "He's never slowed down. He's never missed a day of work."
Watkins laughed when a reporter facetiously asked if he challenged Metta World Peace to finish the confrontation outside after the game.
"I definitely did not tell him that," Watkins said with a laugh. "I just shook his hand after the game. That was about it."
Jon Hood and Marcus Lee sat out the game.
Hood continues to recover from a practice incident in which his head banged off the floor. His headaches have ended and he's making progress. UK said he's still listed as day-to-day.
Lee sat out the game because of a stomach illness.
Plane, trains ...
The Boise State team landed in Chicago on Monday morning. Once it became apparent that the connecting flight from Dallas had been canceled, it took several hours to arrange a bus for the trip to Lexington.
"The nearest one available was an hour and a half from O'Hare, which is why we got the later start, spokesman Mike Walsh said in an email message. "But it was still better than getting on the next United flight (4 p.m. Tuesday) or switching to Southwest, going to Midway and taking our chances that a 9 p.m. flight would actually leave."
The team arrived at its Lexington hotel at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Rice joked about the notion of fatigue as a factor.
"We had a 12-hour bus ride one time from Fresno to Nevada," he said in setting up the joke. "We got stuck on Donner Pass for 11 hours. We had to eat one of the freshman. He was a big guy and provided quite a bit of sustenance."
Of course, the Donner Party became famous for resorting to cannibalism to stay alive when stranded in Donner's Pass.
UK Coach John Calipari said of Boise State, "They run the dribble-drive better than we run it."
To which Rice laughed.
"We're more ball-screen, probably more European-style where we move the ball," the Boise State coach said. "I think the dribble-drive is athletes taking you off the bounce. So I wouldn't classify us as dribble-drive."