“You see? You see?” the spirited Evers shouts to Rocky in the corner between rounds as it becomes evident the fight is not a forgone conclusion. “He's not a machine. He's a man. He's a man.”
In a nutshell, that’s the message Joyner is sending Hampton (16-17) – one of only 24 teams to ever make the NCAA field with a losing record – as it prepares to face one of the best teams in recent memory. Earlier this week, the Pirates' coach joked that he needed "Jesus on speed dial" for advice on a matchup with the mighty Wildcats.
“We understand that, to be able to compete and have a shot to win, we're going to have to play as close to perfect as you can,” Joyner said Wednesday after his team arrived at the KFC Yum! Center. “But like somebody said before, they have us as a one in a billion shot. That's one shot we do have, and we're going to try to take advantage of that one shot.
“If we're able to make shots and rebound the ball and get into transition ourself and kind of make them human, we may have a chance. But we're going to go out and fight for that.”
So just how does a team make UK “human?”
It has more to do with Hampton being at its best than anything the Pirates can take away from the Wildcats, Joyner said.
“When I say make the game human for us, I want us to settle down and be able to play,” he said. “Of course, it's going to be emotional at the beginning, and we understand that, but once we settle down and play our game, if we're where we need to be from the scoreboard on, I think that will make the game human for us, and it's a chance for us to make an upset then that's what we need to do.”
Hampton’s task will be made even more difficult by the absence of its leading scorer and rebounder, junior forward Dwight Meikle, who also missed the “play-in” game victory over Manhattan on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, due to a high-ankle sprain.
The Pirates will look to junior point guard Deron Powers (10.4 ppg, 3.8 apg), junior guard Reginald Johnson (12.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and senior swingman Quinton Chievous (10.3, 6.4 rpg) to pick up the slack. The trio accounted for 38 points in the upset of Manhattan. Chievous, who began his career at the University of Tennessee, is coming off a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“Quinton (Chievous) is one of those guys who, whatever we need to win, he answers the call,” Joyner said. “If he can get going and play with that reckless abandon that he plays with, that will settle the game down for him.”
Tipoff for Thursday’s game is slated for approximately 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS.
Bonus video: Will Kentucky Make History?