Heart rates would be high, John Calipari promised. His Kentucky basketball team would be put through hell in morning conditioning, he vowed, after two losses and a flat second half in a win against Samford.
Calipari, it turns out, was not kidding.
"It feels like it's boot camp," freshman Nerlens Noel said of the Wildcats' new 7 a.m. workouts. "It's a lot of pushups, rollover, toe-touches. It's tough."
Tough mentally, too.
And Calipari will admit that the wake-up call he's sending isn't just the one that pulls his players out of bed for early-morning sprinting. He's trying to send a message about what it takes to complete at Kentucky.
"It's really more of a mindset," Calipari said. "It's not (just) going for an hour in the morning. A lot of it is the mental part of training in the morning - mentally tougher, mentally stronger, not letting go of the rope, stuff like that."
The Wildcats (5-3), who host Portland (3-5) Saturday at Rupp Arena, need that kind of stuff. That's the lesson Calipari has taken from his team's first eight games. UK needs to be held more accountable, needs to learn how to fight when times get tough.
The Cats have to learn to rise to the challenge of playing at Kentucky.
"They just don't know how hard you've got to work or what kind of investment you have to make in this sport," Calipari said. "I've always had a couple guys on the team that could drag others. We're still trying to find that mix."
Ultimately, Calipari wants the Wildcats to hold each other accountable. He wants them to be "empowered," as he says every season - so that he can step back and let the team run itself to a degree.
Last season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did some of the heavy lifting. It was Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick in last summer's NBA Draft, who got the Wildcats in the gym on their own, creating what became known as the "Breakfast Club."
"That's something Gillie got everybody to do," said point guard Ryan Harrow, a redshirt on last season's NCAA title team. "It didn't just happen from the beginning, but he kind of like made it happen."
So far, nobody's making it happen for these Wildcats. So Calipari has taken the reins, instituting morning workouts that he called "kind of a forced Breakfast Club."
"Right now I'm being really hard, I'm being really tough, and that's what they need," Calipari said. "And if someone doesn't think he needs it, he's delusional. This is what we need. This is how we have to play."
The new approach extends beyond conditioning and into what Calipari calls "more roughhouse practices." Calipari's hope is that his team will be tougher for the experience, but he's told his team the results the results won't come overnight.
It took the Cats some time to develop bad habits, Calipari said. Breaking those will take time too.
"You've just got to keep grinding, keep grinding and you'll see," Calipari said.
And it's been a grind. Harrow said nobody's hit the breaking point yet - no throwing up, no tossing alarm clocks against the wall - but the Cats admit it's been tough.
Noel said his teammates understand that Calipari's trying to toughen them up, and that the Cats see the early wake-up calls as a necessary evil.
"Not too many people like getting up that early to run," Noel said, "but that's the kind of thing that sets you apart from other teams."
Site: Rupp Arena (23,000), Lexington.
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Fleming play-by play, Sean Farham analyst).
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); Sirius/XM 199).
Favorite: Kentucky by 23.5
Series record: Kentucky leads 3-0
At Lexington: Kentucky leads 2-0
Coaches' records: Calipari 2-0 vs. Portland; Reveno 0-2 vs. UK
Last meeting: Kentucky 87, Portland 63, Nov. 26, 2011 (Rupp Arena, Lexington)
Darius Miller and Terrence Jones scored 19 points each and Anthony Davis added 13 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots as Kentucky got a decent test from the Pilots. Portland cut UK's 12-point halftime lead to six points in the second half, but the Wildcats ripped off an 18-4 run to pull away. Nemanja Mitrovic scored 20 points to lead Portland. Marquis Teague had 14 points and eight assists for Kentucky, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 13 points.
Keys to the Game
1. Loss Lookalike?: Portland won't have Kentucky's talent, but that doesn't mean that the Pilots will be without a prayer. UK coach John Calipari said Portland had its chances to upset UNLV in its last outing. And Calipari went so far as to compare the Pilots to a team that already has beaten Kentucky this season. "They run their stuff," Calipari said. "They execute. I hate to tell you: They look like Notre Dame to me, and they had Vegas beat."
2. Double Trouble: The Wildcats' toughest defensive challenge will be Portland forward Ryan Nicholas, who averages a double-double, posting 13.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Nicholas isn't afraid of stiff competition. He had 15 points, 19 rebounds and six assists in this week's loss to UNLV. If Portland is to have any shot, he'll have to be better than he was last season at Rupp Arena. Nicholas had four points and six rebounds against UK last season and shot 2-for-6.
3. Road Woes: Portland can be a dangerous opponent, but the Pilots are a much bigger threat at home than on the road. The Pilots are 3-1 at home this season but 0-4 on the road. Portland is averaging 67.5 points per game at home and 57.5 per game on the road. The Pilots are giving up 62.2 points per game at home and 76.3 points per game on the road. At home, Portland's rebounding margin is +7.3. It's -8.3 on the road.