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March 8, 2013It's do or die. It's sink or swim.
Pick your life-or-death cliché and it applies to Kentucky's regular-season finale on Saturday, with No. 11 Florida visiting in what might amount to an NCAA Tournament play-in game for the Wildcats.
It's a "one-game season," UK coach John Calipari said. A win breathes new life into a dying season. A loss might make a Southeastern Conference Tournament title UK's only hope for a postseason rebirth.
"It's kind of like, 'Uh-oh. If I go under one more time I'm gonna drown. I better start swimming,'" Calipari said. "Then all the sudden you start swimming. The car's laying on you, it's on your leg, you gotta lift a 3,000-pound car. It's funny how you figure out how to lift it to get it off your leg so you don't die, so you can get out of there and get help."
Those might seem like awfully serious analogies for a basketball game.
But at Kentucky under Calipari, the NCAA Tournament has been a given. The thought of missing out isn't so far from a figurative death for a pack of Wildcats (20-10, 11-6 SEC) who have disappointed most of the season.
"It is really sink-or-swim now," forward Alex Poythress said. "If you don't play, you're going to drown. You don't want to drown out here, so you got to keep swimming really."
And Kentucky is swimming upstream. The water is cold and the sharks - or the Gators, if you prefer - are circling.
A win against Florida gives the Wildcats a chance at the No. 2 seed in next week's SEC Tournament and guarantees them a top four seed. A loss could drop UK to the No. 5 seed.
And Florida (24-5, 14-3) is the league's best team, still battling for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Make no mistake, the Cats' backs are to the wall.
"Now are you going to fight like heck, play through the ups and downs of a game, or are you gonna die?" Calipari said. "I can't put it any more plainly or bluntly."
The Cats might not be in the best frame of mind for a game with such high stakes. They're coming off a 72-62 loss at Georgia on Thursday night, a game after which Calipari said he had done "a crap job" of coaching this season and guard Archie Goodwin conceded that at this late stage of the season, it "doesn't look like anything's going to change."
"We don't have anything to lose," Mays said. "The only thing we've got is to gain. It's either we're in or we're out after this game. We can't go back to any point in this season that we already had, so all we've got is tomorrow."
So maybe these Cats are running out of lives. But maybe there's a chance to pull one last death-defying act.
"There's always time," Poythress said. "There's always time until the fat lady stops singing."