The Kentucky Wildcats are getting set for what's become one of the biggest games of SEC play.
South Carolina has been a bottom-feeding program for much of the past decade, but Frank Martin has slowly built the Gamecocks into a team not only going to make the NCAA Tournament, but possibly win the SEC regular-season crown.
That is, unless UK can pull off a win in Columbia Saturday, but that will be far from easy. USC has yet to lose at home this season, and the Cats are dealing with injuries to several key players. Alex Poythress is out with a knee injury and Jamal Murray bruised his knee during Monday's win over Georgia to he point he missed practice this week.
Both of these injuries could lead to bigger roles for junior guard Dominique Hawkins and freshman big man Isaac Humphries during Saturday's clash in Columbia.
Here is a recap of what Hawk had to say Friday about Saturday's game.
On how his ankle is feeling
"It's doing good. It's not all the way healed, but it's been the best it's ever been."
On the ankle keeping him out vs Florida
"Yeah it was really sore and it was bothering me in practice. The doctors and I decided to sit out that game."
On if it felt good to be back against Georgia ...
"Yeah it definitely felt good. Definitely with my teammates wanting me to play, and their encouraging me to make plays and stuff like that."
On the ankle not hurting him on the dunk
"Yeah, actually I surprised myself when I did that. I kind of thought my ankle was going to hurt me when I was running back on the court, but it was fine."
On how the team needs to play better on the road
"We just have to be more focused and everybody has to play their role. When we get up in the game, we have to maintain that and keep on putting it down."
On if the setback injuries have hurt him
"It does a little, but I know in the future I still can make a great impact for this team. Injuries do suck, but you just have to be able to bounce back and find your way back on the team and make a great role for our team."
On the stronger emphasis on defense
"I feel like it's been one of our biggest keys is our defense. Defense has been one of our biggest letdowns in games most of the time, and now Coach (Cal) is getting on us about it because our offense is great. Everybody can score the ball when they get it. And on defense, we're just more focused on the scouting report, trying to keep people out of the paint."
On if it's just been focus and execution on defense
"Yeah, it's definitely focusing on knowing who you're guarding and what their weakness and strengths are."
On if the team has thought about the SEC title at all
"I haven't even thought about it."
On it being crowded at the top of the conference
"There's a lot of great teams in the SEC, but I haven't really been focusing on them. Been taking it one game at a time because we need to be able to get a great seed in the SEC Tournament and start winning games."
On what he knows of South Carolina
"I don't really know too much. We didn't really watch film yet. We usually watch during the game day in the morning."
On what his thought is of a noon tip
"I don't think we've ever had a noon game on the road yet. I know we played Louisville at noon and we did pretty good."
On if Derek Willis is a go-to guy right now for the team ...
"Definitely. The way he can shoot the ball, he can stretch out the court for us. Derek is a great teammate and he's willing to do anything to win."
On if he looks at Derek Willis' season as motivation for himself
"Well, knowing Derek, he's a great guy. I'm glad this is happening for him because I know he had a capability to be able to be a great player that he is right now. I'm glad he didn't have any injuries or any setbacks for him, and now he's helping out the team. He's helping us out a whole lot on the offensive end and rebounding."
On Coach Cal saying it should be happening to him if not for the injuries
"Yeah that's true. Injuries have set me back a little bit, but in the future, hopefully I can make a great impact for the team and bounce back."
On how close he is to 100 percent
"I feel like I'm very close. The ankle hasn't really been bothering me this week that much. Hopefully I get a lot of playing time for this game."
On how hard it is to teach younger players about buying in to defense
"It's hard because most of the people we're recruiting are probably highly offensive skilled. Coach (Cal) gets on everybody during defense drills and everything that we do. To be a great team, we have to have a great defense."
On what he remembers of the South Carolina game two years ago
"I remember Coach (Cal) getting thrown out. I just remember we didn't come up with a win."
On what he thinks of playing down in South Carolina
"It's definitely going to be a tough crowd, but we have to pull it out. We have to find a way to win on the road. We haven't been getting any good road wins. Hopefully tomorrow we'll get a good one."
And here is a recap of what Isaac had to say Friday.
On if practices have remained physical
"Yeah, definitely. Yesterday was a good practice, very physical, definitely will have us ready for tomorrow."
On what he expects out of South Carolina
"I know they rebound really intensively, so we're going to have to box out a lot and aggressively get them on our back so we can secure the rebound. That's what I've kind of taken out of the whole practice is they're going to be very aggressive on the boards."
On how much confidence he's gained over the last two weeks
"A lot in confidence. Mentally, just have risen from a place where I just wasn't sure how I was and stuff like that. Now I think I'm back on track and it's all good."
On if there's a part of his game that's improved from his confidence
"Not really, just kind of all around, getting back into it."
On if he's having fun
"Yeah, having a lot of fun."
On if he lost confidence at one point
"I don't think I lost confidence. I think I just lost a little bit of perspective and wasn't sure what was going to happen and stuff like that."
On where he found his inner shot blocker
"It's always been there - no, I'm just kidding (laughter). I don't know, I honestly don't. I mean, I've always been able to block some shots, but they're not always the big off the backboard (blocks). Gets the job done."
On UK being a different team on the road than at home
"I think just the atmosphere and our fans and stuff like that. Just the basic stuff. It all helps a lot. We feel very comfortable in Rupp. It helps. On the road, we're just getting used to road games and we'll be fine."
On how important it is to get comfortable away from home
"It's very important. For us, it's definitely just a game-to-game thing, get used to. When we have a lead away we have to secure that lead and not let that crowd interfere with that."
On what has happened when they've lost leads
"I think that it's just - I mean, every team does it. When you get ahead you get complacent and you think, ‘Oh, we've won it.' But that can't happen. I've seen that with a lot of teams I've been on. It takes a special team to be able to push through and keep grinding through it, and I think we're slowly getting there."
On getting a win at South Carolina being huge for their confidence
"Yeah. It would just secure that' we're on the right track."
On if he's heard anything about playing at South Carolina
"I haven't actually. I don't really know much about - I don't even know where it is. Is it on that side? Near New York? (Reporter: Toward the Atlantic Ocean) OK, there we go. I don't even know where I'm going."
On if he's talked to injured UK senior forward Alex Poythress
"Yeah, I talked to him, he's been around. He's fine. I talked to him yesterday. He seems all good."
On if he's looked at South Carolina much yet on film
"Not a lot. We looked at rebounding a lot yesterday - film on their rebounding. Like I said earlier, they just rebound very intensively and get after it."
On South Carolina having a 6-foot-5 player getting a lot of rebounds and how someone that size can do that, and if it's all effort
"Yeah, I mean, it has to be, right? And he just obviously knows how to work his body around big bodies. Boxing out is harder than it looks, but it'll be fine. What'd you say, 6-5? It'll be good (laughter). It's a good challenge, it's fine."
On whether he would prefer to play against someone his own size
"When someone's my size it's just easier to go body to body and you don't have to worry about someone sneaking around you all the time. That's just how it works, right? You gotta adjust to personnel."
On whether he notices different brands of basketballs
"Not really. I mean I notice that they're different brands, but I haven't really felt any different about it."
On the importance of a renewed focus on defense
"Obviously we've been working on it a lot and it's been very important for us because we can now play offensively and we can come down the other end and be really confident on defense and know we can get stops and stuff like that."
On his shot blocking
"I've been OK just because of pure size. But I don't know. I guess I just read when it's coming well, I guess. I don't know. It's just what it is."
On whether they have thought about the SEC title
"It's something every team looks for. It's just one of those things of you have a goal and you just work for it every day. We haven't really spoken about it too much but we all know that's the goal."
On how to take their energy on the road
"We just need-it starts from shootaround. We have to have a good shootaround and then we go crazy in the locker room. And then-we're getting a lot better at starting intensively."
On keeping players engaged when they get hurt
"It's the same off the court. They're the same people. We just hang out and they're watching and they're still learning. It's not like they're just sitting doing nothing. They're getting after it as well so it's fine. We just gotta adjust."
On the role injuries have played in UK's inconsistency
"I mean yeah. You get used to personnel and then someone goes and then someone else has gotta come in and that's bit different. Then you just get used to it again. You just gotta adjust to how we play with people, without people and stuff like that."
On whether it's been difficult for him finding a role
"I was kind of-I had gained momentum in the first minute I was playing so it wasn't that tough, to be honest. It's just me mentally staying focused and knowing the end goal for me."