By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones have only played at South Carolina once, but it made an impression on both of them going into tonight’s game in Columbia, S.C.
“I remember they definitely swarmed the paint when we were playing them. So you drive to the paint and there’s a lot of help defenders running in. I feel like we’re going to have to exploit that and use that to our ends,” Gabriel said Monday.
“They’re definitely physical. They try to bulldoze you and different things like that, being aggressive on defense. But this team, that’s what you need in the SEC play anyway, that type of competition. We’re going to have to feed off of that this game. I think that competitors, you respond to that type of environment.”
Killeya-Jones expects a “hectic” atmosphere like what UK faced at LSU, Tennessee and Vanderbilt — all games that UK won.
“I think we know what to expect going in. We know we have to talk a lot, we have to play together and we’re going to have to communicate as well,” Killeya-Jones said. “We have to continue to come together and lean on each other when we go into those environments.
“It’s hectic and hostile and everything. It’s not going to do anything but make us a better team for those tournament games at the end of the year where they’re in neutral environments. I think we played a lot of games like that so far, so we’re just learning how to do that.”
What impact will the physical play have on Kentucky, which has had a propensity for not liking that style?
“We know that’s how they play. We can be a tough team at times too. That’s something, obviously, we’ve really been focusing on, honing in on lately, is trying to improve our toughness as a team,” Killeya-Jones said. “I think we’ve been doing a good job so far, so this is going to be a good test for us.”
Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne said rebounding is a key to winning a physical game.
“Are they hitting you? Are they attacking you? Are they pushing you under the basket? Well, if that’s happening then they’re going to get offensive rebounds,” Payne said.
“Second thing is defensively, they’re going to try to take you out of offense. They’re going to try to rough you up off screens. They’re going to try to get up inside of you when you’re handling the ball. They’re going to deny passes. They’re going to play physical.
“You have to meet every pass. You have to step over the defender. You have to come to the pass. Catch it, be strong with the ball and make good decisions. They’re going to collapse on drives and we better be ready to find their players on the perimeter and make them pass it.”