Earlier this week, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said a scary thing about South Carolina.
"They take on Frank's personality," he said of the Gamecocks. "They're ballin'."
Frank, of course, is South Carolina Coach Frank Martin, he of the penetrating glare and boiling intensity.
Ballin' is Calipari's ultimate compliment, his way of saying all substance and no style. Keeping it real and sending you reeling.
How appropriate, then, that Kentucky's game at South Carolina on Saturday starts at, ahem, high noon. As Calipari described it, Kentucky faces a test of will and heart and strain and struggle.
For coaches who live for a chance to watch possession-by-possession execution, this can be basketball at its finest. Those seeking basketball's balletic artistry should keep the remote control nearby.
"It's a great concept," Calipari said in lauding the grit Martin demands. "They'll pressure all over the place and deny wings. If you drive, they all race to the lane."
As Willie Cauley-Stein noted UK's desire to demoralize opponents, so South Carolina wants the other team to surrender.
"It's really hard to play that way," Calipari said. "If you don't play, you're getting beat. They play."
You only have to go back to last season's Kentucky-South Carolina game for evidence, Calipari suggested. South Carolina got hammered on the boards 46-28. But the Gamecocks defended. UK made a season-low 26.9 percent of its shots (only eight of 35 from two-point range) and lost 72-67.
Calipari put the defeat in the context of willpower.
"We didn't bow our necks 'til I got tossed," he said in reference to his two technical fouls and second-half ejection. "Then we bowed our necks and played. This game is going to be physical. They come right at you. If you drive, as you run at them, they're running at you."
As Calipari assessed it, South Carolina will keep its defense packed around the basket. The alley-oop pass could be a rare sight.
Kentucky's counter must be breathing life into an idea Calipari has been preaching all season: Match, if not exceed, the opponent's zeal.
"Be strong with the ball," he said. "Play through bumps."
Calipari attributed a 68-62 loss at South Carolina in 2010 to a failure to be strong and play through bumps. "You know what?" he said. "They just out-muscled us that year. They just roughed us up and we weren't able to finish and make plays."
Martin did not arrive at South Carolina until 2012.
Kentucky fans might remember Martin's get-physical approach from a game in 2008-09. His Kansas State team all but enveloped Kentucky in what was billed as the Las Vegas Invitational.
UK made a whopping 68.8 percent of its shots, but barely won 74-72. That's because the Cats committed 31 turnovers. UK's ball handling and Kansas State's pressure made DeAndre Liggins' refusal to re-enter the game all the more appalling.
"The biggest thing for us is just energy," Calipari said. "Will we battle? Will we go in and fight? When this game gets physically rough, when they're up under you on shots, when there is a rebound and everything is just a body-to-body slam, can you hold your ground? When you get close to the basket, they're not going to surrender. ... Can you make that 2-footer?"
Calipari seemed to suggest that some UK players had been giving opponents too much respect.
"Can you make it against another college player?" he asked. "He's another college player. He's not Wilt the Stilt."
That was a reference to an imposing 7-footer, Wilt Chamberlain, a Hall of Famer who retired as an NBA player more than 40 years ago.
Calipari isn't the only Southeastern Conference coach to note Martin's intensity.
"He's got unbelievable passion and conviction about how he wants his teams to play," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said in early January. "It's a long process to get your culture established. ... Now he's got his culture set. One of the best defensive teams in the country right now."
As of Friday, South Carolina ranked No. 8 nationally in field-goal defense (opponents shooting 36.6 percent). The Gamecocks ranked No. 25 in rebound margin (plus 6.4).
"We've shown we're capable of being a good basketball team," Martin said. Most notably, South Carolina beat No. 9 Iowa State 64-60 on a neutral floor.
But Martin scoffed at Donovan's suggestion of a culture change at South Carolina. "We haven't changed anything yet. ... ," he said as SEC play began. "If we don't figure out a way to win, there's no culture changed."
As if on cue, the Gamecocks have lost four of five in league play and bring a 10-7 overall record into the Kentucky game.
"If we play like we did last year, we're going to lose again." Andrew Harrison said. "I know they're a rough team and a tough team. We have to play 100 percent or it's going to be a long game."
Four Cats on watch lists
Four UK players were included on midseason award watch lists announced Friday by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Willie Cauley-Stein made the midseason watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, which goes to the nation's top player.
Freshmen Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyler Ulis were among 14 players selected to the midseason list for the Wayman Tisdale Award, which honors the nation's top freshman.
Cauley-Stein leads the Wildcats in rebounding with 6.9 per game and has a team-best 30 steals. The junior is averaging 9.4 points and shooting a team-best 57.3 percent.
Joining Cauley-Stein on the 17-player Oscar Robertson watch list were junior forwards Montrezl Harrell of Louisville and Kyle Wiltjer — a former UK player — of Gonzaga.
Booker is leading the Cats with 34 made three-pointers. He's shooting 50 percent from behind the arc and averaging 10.4 points — tops among UK freshmen.
Towns has two double-doubles and is averaging 8.3 points and 6.6 rebounds while blocking a team-high 46 shots.
Ulis is averaging 5.6 points and 3.6 assists while leading the Southeastern Conference with a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Louisville native D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. — son of the former UK player of the same name — also made the Wayman Tisdale list.
The awards will be presented at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards on April 14 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
■ South Carolina ranks fourth in the SEC in attendance with an average of 10,797 per game. The game is a sellout, South Carolina's first since playing Kentucky on Jan. 22, 2011.
■ Mark Jones, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung will call the game for ESPN.