Kentucky Coach John Calipari figures his Kiddie Cats will feel the intensity of a game against Louisville on Friday.
"The guys that don't understand it will feel it like a shot upside your head or a grab," he said on Thursday. "You'll feel it."
Calipari put a high priority on how Kentucky players react to physical play as a key in the game.
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"My biggest thing is you've got to be ready," Calipari said. "The intensity of the game is going to be crazy. You better be ready to play through the grabs, the holds, the pushes and the shoves. It's going to be a physical game. You better be able to finish around the rim because if you think you're going to go up and nobody's going to go after it and nobody is going to go after your body ... "
You'd be mistaken.
As Kentucky coach in the 1990s, Rick Pitino thrilled UK fans with what he playfully called "mother-in-law defense." Or, as he explained, "Constant harassment."
Now Louisville is the mother-in-law.
Josh Harrellson, the blue-collar glue for Kentucky, found the Kentucky-Louisville intensity something of a mystery when he arrived from St. Charles, Mo. He's grown to find U of L basketball hard to swallow.
"I don't, like, hate them like most people do," he said. "But I don't like them, by any means."
Last year's game fueled his distaste for Louisville and nearly spilled over into something regrettable. In trying to maintain order, the referees called five technical fouls (three on U of L, two on UK) and went to a sideline monitor to see whether DeMarcus Cousins should be ejected because of a forearm to the head area of a Louisville player.
Harrellson recalled Louisville players trying to intimidate the Cats in the pre-game layup line.
"I guess they knew we were a young team," he said. "We had a lot of freshmen. I guess they thought if they got in our heads, we wouldn't be able to play."
Harrellson expects the same tactic from the Cardinals in the KFC Yum Center.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "We're a young team, again. They'll definitely try to do the same thing, again. Trash talk. See if they can get us out of our game.
"We're prepared. We're ready for them."
Teammate DeAndre Liggins pronounced himself ready for any roughhousing.
"That's part of me," he said. "I'm a physical basketball player. I'm ready for all that kind of pushing and shoving. I'm from Chicago."
Liggins recalled rough-and-tumble games that rivaled the take-no-prisoner style of Chicago politics.
"A guy catches the ball, we hit him," he said. "That's the kind of game we played in Chicago on the streets."
"They punch," Liggins said. "I'm ready for all that. I've just got to get the freshmen to buy in, and tell them what (U of L) is going to try to do."
Liggins made sure to note that he did not expect any punches thrown in this Kentucky-Louisville game. The referees would keep control of the action, he said.
As he did on his radio show Monday night, Calipari called for restraint. Perhaps he recalled getting caught up in the charged atmosphere himself, when a television camera caught him exchanging unfriendly words with a Louisville player.
"The passion and emotion of a tough, hard-nosed contest is one thing," he said. "But when it moves beyond that, when there's a nastiness to it, ... that's not good for what we do.
"This game should be one of those vicious, clean (games). Everybody just playing hard and playing to win. When it's over and everybody leaves the arena or leaves their TV, (they) say, 'Now, that's basketball. I enjoyed watching. That was the fun-est game I've seen all year.' "
Earlier in the week, Calipari talked about matchups rather than mayhem. He hinted at using a zone defense to slow the pace as Drexel did in beating Louisville 52-46 on Dec. 14. U of L has scored 100 or more points in the past two games, the first time the Cards have cracked the century mark in back-to-back games since 1996. A frenetic pace also feeds into Louisville's pressure. Every U of L opponent has had more turnovers than assists this season.
Whether Kentucky succumbs to the pressure will depend on mental and physical toughness, Calipari said.
"Be strong," he said of the antidote to Louisville pressure. "Just be tough with the ball. ...
"You've just got to know. They're playing. This is not for 'fun-sies.' "