Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie will be like every gambler in town when the Cats play in the Las Vegas Invitational on Friday and Saturday. He'll be looking for an edge.
But there's one big difference. The edge he seeks won't be counting cards in blackjack, tossing loaded dice or keeping an ace of spades up his sleeve.
Gillispie wants his team to play with the kind of edge that's synonymous with irascibility.
"I thought we played with an edge (against Longwood on Monday)," Gillispie said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I think that's been lacking. We've been kind of getting pushed around. I don't like that much at all."
Gillispie saw a different attitude against Longwood, no doubt led by an active Patrick Patterson, and he wants to see more of the same when Kentucky plays Kansas State in Friday's semifinals. (UK will play either Iowa or West Virginia on Saturday.)
"For the first time, we had a lot of guys playing with a great deal more hunger than they had previously," Gillispie said. "Maybe that's because of a lack of confidence. Maybe because of a lack of experience. Whatever the reason, I don't think we've been playing quite tough enough."
Gillispie suggested that toughness will be a huge factor in determining much more than Kentucky's winnings in Vegas. To hear the UK coach, the team's season depends on hairy-chested toughness.
"I think we can be really good," Gillispie said in assessing UK's prospects for this season. "But it's all determined by how tough we get. I think we'll handle the ball really well. I don't know if we'll shoot it great or not. But we'll shoot it well enough. With the combination of inside and outside play we should have before it's all said and done, I think this is going to be a really good team.
"But it'll all depend on how tough we are."
When asked to define toughness, Gillispie mentioned diving on the floor for loose balls, "checking" opponents who cut through the lane or attempt to get an offensive rebound and scoring while being fouled.
"You should see a team get a lot of 'and-ones,' " he said, meaning count the basket and one free throw. "Those are tough teams. Ones that finish the play."
At the other end, the tough teams defend the goal and do not allow easy scores.
"Offer a great deal of resistance, whether a foul or a contest," Gillispie said. "You know what toughness looks like. And it's all those things and more."
Patterson's boffo performance against Longwood included two "and-ones."
Kansas State Coach Frank Martin spoke of Gillispie teams as synonymous with toughness. In a telephone interview, he recalled the toughness of Gillispie-coached teams at Texas A&M.
Martin spoke as if Kentucky's toughness was a given and his team would benefit from playing a tough team Friday night.
"Playing a Billy Gillispie team is going to prepare us for what the Big 12 (conference) is all about," the Kansas State coach said. "You just have to match how physical they're going to be as well as their talent level. You have to match the intensity that the (UK) team will play. Those things will challenge our team.
"We want to play hard games. Billy can tell you better than anybody. If you want to have any chance to succeed in the Big 12, you better challenge your team before you get to conference."