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January 20, 2012They lofted lobs for dynamic dunks. They shredded the press for highlight-reel hoops.
The No. 2 Kentucky basketball team had it easy Tuesday night against Arkansas.
On Saturday, expect things to get rough.
When Alabama visits Rupp Arena for a noon tip-off, easy baskets will be hard to come by.
"This is a team that's going to come in physically and play," UK coach John Calipari said. "They're not going to back down. They're going to go right at people. They're going to press and trap and scramble, they're going to jam it in the post.
"They're going to guard us. They're going to hang on people. When you drive, you're going to have a body on you. You get it in the post, you're going to have someone up against your body. It's just how it is; there's no free baskets. It's what we need. It's what this team needs."
Though the Crimson Tide (13-5, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) will employ some full-court pressure, that's about where the similarity ends to undersized Arkansas.
"The biggest difference is they can throw the ball inside and they try," Calipari said. "They will do it. They will go after you."
Alabama leans heavily on forward JaMychal Green, one of the SEC's most physical players. Green averages 13.7 points per game for a team that ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring offense at 66.3 points per game.
"They haven't shot the three particularly well," Calipari said. "I predict they'll shoot it against us like everybody else does. They're a great defensive team and a good offensive team. They're not a bad offensive team. They're a good offensive team. But they're really, really good defensively."
The Tide rank first in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 56.4 points per game allowed, and second to UK in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 37 percent shooting.
"I heard they're a great defensive team, but we're the same too," guard Doron Lamb said. "We've got a lot of players on our team that have talent on offense. I think we should go out tomorrow and get the win."
To do that, Kentucky (18-1, 4-0) will have to contend with physical play not just from Green, but from every spot on the floor.
"You have to go out there and be physical," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "You can't let them outwork you. You have to go out there and be physical and strong."
Tough play has been a soft spot for Kentucky this year, and though the Wildcats have outlasted physical teams before - Louisville bodied UK on the perimeter, Tennessee in the paint - they've struggled to assert themselves early in games against physically stronger opponents.
Alabama will try to bully Calipari's Cats. And with the Crimson Tide coming off a loss Thursday night to Vanderbilt, they figure to be in a foul mood.
"They're going to be mean and nasty," Calipari said. "I would expect that."
Alabama's brand of physical play had mixed results against the Wildcats last season. Kentucky trounced the Tide in the SEC Tournament. Alabama won the regular-season meeting in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a game in which the Tide took a 20-point lead before hanging on for a 68-66 win.
"They definitely play really physical," UK senior Darius Miller said. "I think it kind of caught us off guard last year. We got down pretty quickly and they did a great job of taking advantage of how we were playing. Hopefully we don't do the same thing this year."