By LARRY VAUGHT
Derek Willis remembers that Kentucky had a close game at South Carolina last year until the final 10 minutes of the game. What he didn’t exactly remember was that coach John Calipari got thrown out of that game in the opening minutes.
“I’m not sure if that was one of the games Coach got T’d up and ended up getting kicked out of the game. It was a hard game at first. It was real physical. It kind of took us some time to get used to it and then, like I said, we eventually broke away from them,” Willis said Friday.
South Carolina plays at Rupp Arena Saturday night in not only a matchup of top 25 teams, but a matchup of the only two teams unbeaten in SEC play.
The Gamecocks are a physical team that takes on the personality of coach Frank Martin.
“We’re just going to face teams that are going to play like that with us, just try to get in our head, get into the emotions of the game and then take us out of what we do. I don’t know, just something to prepare for,” Willis said.
“South Carolina is a physical team. I’ve watched them play and every year since I’ve been here they’ve really been a physical team, get after you, hit the boards hard and that’s something they do well. You just have to be prepared for it.”
South Carolina has one of the nation’s toughest defenses to score against. Willis says it’s easy to see why — and the Gamecocks did hold Florida without a 3-point goal Tuesday.
“They just get after you. They’re a physical team. They get up in you. When they make a shot they’re sending probably three or four guys it looks like to the glass every single time. So, they offensive rebound well too,” Willis said. “They know what they want to do, they’re good at what they do and it makes them a really solid team.”
Willis says the Gamecocks do reflect Martin’s aggressive personality.
“The way a coach is, is definitely going to carry off how the players are going to play. If that’s his personality off the court and how he coaches then I would agree completely. It’s always one of those games where it’s always been physical, it’s always been a tough game for us. Their players play hard, their coach is really into the game. It’ll be fun,” Willis said.
It will be more fun for UK if Willis and Wenyen Gabriel continue to play the way they have while sharing time at power forward. In a win at Mississippi State Tuesday, both players had 13 points. They also avoided foul problems that hurt other players.
“I didn’t really want to put it on the refs because the refs are just out there to do their job, whether they call it tight or they’re not calling anything. You can’t really base how you’re playing off that. We just had to adjust with how the game was going by. I know a lot of stuff Bam (Adebayo) was doing he was getting called for,” Willis said.
“There’s calls where setting screens both ways – I know we had some calls on that. So, just when me and Wenyen were out there we were trying to pick up the slack for what it was because I don’t think Bam played a lot that game. Isaac (Humphries) came and gave good minutes. I think Tai (Wynyard) came in and did really well. Like I said, just picking up the slack where we could, try to do what we could.”