COLUMBIA, S.C. — There was a break in play for foul shots late in the first half Saturday at Colonial Life Arena, and Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hurried over to the Kentucky bench and appeared to ask his coach a question.
John Calipari answered and Aaron gave a look like, "Oh, I thought we were doing something completely different," made a motion with his hands as he replied, nodded, then headed back to the middle of the court.
Calipari walked back to the UK bench and said something to his staff, apparently relaying what the sophomore guard had said, and the group, including Calipari, laughed.
The 2013-14 season this is not.
Never miss a local story.
It didn't necessarily take No. 1-ranked Kentucky's 58-43 win at South Carolina to drive that point home, but the convincing victory in the same gym that brought the Cats so much frustration, an ejection and an embarrassing loss just a year ago certainly offered a clear contrast.
In case you haven't noticed, we're marching on toward something special here, people. Kentucky is 19-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC and there may be a banana peel waiting on down the road, but at present these Cats are taking on a machine-like look.
The word was you had to beat Kentucky on the boards to beat Kentucky. South Carolina did that Saturday. The Gamecocks outrebounded the visiting Cats 40-28. UK managed to snatch a measly three offensive rebounds to 22 defensive boards for South Carolina. That's an offensive-rebound percentage of 12, lowest of the Calipari era at Kentucky.
It didn't matter.
The word was you had to get physical with Kentucky to beat Kentucky. South Carolina bodied and bumped. Their coach, Frank Martin, said he couldn't have been happier with the way his team fought.
It didn't matter.
South Carolina even brought out Steve Spurrier, who worked the sellout crowd into a frenzy at halftime — "Kentucky may have the No. 1-ranked men's basketball team in the nation but we've got the No. 1-ranked women's team," he reminded — and usually whenever the Old Ball Coach is around it's not a good thing for Kentucky.
It didn't matter.
"That's a really good team," Martin said.
We already knew Kentucky is a really good basketball team, but maybe we don't say it enough. And maybe one thing we don't praise as much as we should is one important reason why this team is so good: chemistry.
Think back to March 1, 2014, at Colonial. Remember the glares of the Kentucky players? Remember the looks of despair after mistakes? Remember Calipari screaming until he finally couldn't scream anymore, and he got tossed? I do. I was there.
There's none of that with this team. Oh, Cal still yells from time to time, though not as loud and not as often. The tone is different. The message is taken differently. Example: When a player (Aaron Harrison) is obviously confused about something, no one freaks out.
"I trust these guys," Calipari said.
We're talking about eight McDonald's All-Americans and a bunch of future NBA draft picks all playing and fitting together as if they had grown up together. That's not easy to do. I don't care how much talent you have. Sometimes, the more talent you have the harder it is to get a team to play together.
And yes, it's easy to get along when you're 19-0. But what comes first: the chicken or the egg? Attitude is a big part of why this team is 19-0 and people are making comparisons to Indiana in 1975-76 and people are using terms like historic.
In the post-game press conference, a media member informed Calipari he now has a better winning percentage than Adolph Rupp. Calipari said he didn't know that and how amazed he was that Rupp coached UK for 42 years before repeating that he has had 19 NBA draft picks (so far) at Kentucky.
Calipari said, "When you have that many good players — you won't believe this — you're going to win a lot of games."