One Kentucky player in particular can identify with Hamidou Diallo, who joined the team at the semester break.
Tai Wynyard did the same thing last season.
“It’s hard coming in and not really knowing much,” Wynyard said Friday.
But it might be easier for Diallo, who is from Queens, N.Y.
“He’s already lived over here,” said Wynyard, a native of New Zealand. “He knows that kind of lifestyle. It was a bit different for me.”
Although he practiced but did not play in his half-season last year, Wynyard saw value in the experience.
“It gives a bit of a jump for me,” he said. “International basketball is a lot different from American college basketball.”
Different rules and a faster pace in the U.S. necessitate an adjustment period.
Wynyard has made a positive impression this season. That included several teammates referring to him as a brick wall.
“Just my roots,” Wynyard said in explaining why he’s viewed as a wall. “That’s just the kind of person I am. Trying to play as physical as I can all the time. When I get that chance, I want to show how strong I am.”
After Malik Monk’s 47-point starburst performance against North Carolina, UK Coach John Calipari ordered Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel to give the freshman guard an appreciative hug.
Monk returned the favor after Willis and Gabriel helped UK win at Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Willis reluctantly confirmed getting a hug from Monk.
“I guess,” he said. “We were just excited about each other. For me, it’s not about receiving credit. It’s about winning games.”
No threes allowed
Florida had made a three-pointer in 850 consecutive games. Then the Gators missed all 17 attempts at South Carolina on Wednesday.
“We were consistent with what we’ve done all year,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. “We’ve taken the three-point shot away from people, and a big reason for that is our on-ball defense. … We’re doing a better job of keeping the ball in front of us.”
Added Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina’s leading scorer (18.2 ppg) and rebounder (6.9 rpg): “It’s not defending the three. It’s defending the ball.”
South Carolina ranks No. 1 nationally in three-point defense. Opponents have made only 26.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
UK is tied with UNLV for the nation’s longest active streak of games with a three-pointer: 993.
No one argues with the premise that South Carolina plays a physical brand of basketball.
“You will not find a more physical team in the SEC,” Daymeon Fishback said on the telecast of the South Carolina-Florida game on Wednesday.
But Martin would argue that the Gamecocks do not try to intimidate opponents.
“I’m not a big believer in that whole intimidation thing,” he said. “I never have, never will be. The only people who have ever been intimidated are people that are unsure about themselves. When you try to intimidate, you’re trying to fool somebody.”
Martin can radiate intensity during a game.
Wyatt Thompson, the play-by-play announcer on radio broadcasts of Kansas State games, said, “I jokingly said to him when he was getting ready to leave here that in a five-year period, he went from lunatic to a rock star.
“I had people say to me, ‘You’re going to have to tell him to calm down. He’s going to have a heart attack and die right on the floor.’ And they were sincere about it. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around anybody who could get to a boil that fast. He’s just a real competitive guy.”
But when asked if Martin can be a sweetheart away from the court, Thompson said, “Oh, yeah. Off the court, I’ve always said he’s just a big, old lovable teddy bear, if you want to know the truth. And I really, truly believe that. I love him as a coach and for what he did here. I also love him as a person.”
Thompson suggested that Martin is like his mentor, Bob Huggins, a nice guy even with the sideline glowering.
“Like ‘Hugs,’ he was way misunderstood,” Thompson said of Martin at K-State.
▪ Something has to give: UK ranks No. 3 in points (93.3 ppg) and No. 15 in shooting (49.6 percent). South Carolina ranks No. 2 in field-goal defense (36.3 percent) and No. 5 in points allowed (59.4 ppg).
▪ Calipari appreciates Willis’ efforts to improve as a defender. But he doesn’t want the senior forward to lose sight of what he does best. “Is he ever going to be a defensive stopper?” Calipari said. “He is a senior. He is what he is. Be the best version of that.”
▪ For all the talk about physical play, South Carolina barely averages only one more foul (20.6) than Kentucky (19.3).
▪ Tom Hart, Kara Lawson and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung will call the game for ESPN.