GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Win the Southeastern Conference Tournament or bust.
That was Kentucky players' attitude going forward after Saturday's 60-53 loss at Florida.
"We still have the SEC Tournament," big man Patrick Patterson said. "That's our last resort pretty much."
To win the SEC Tournament, Kentucky will have to win four games in four days. That sounded like a tall order for a team that ended the regular season with four straight losses (and defeats in eight of the last 11 games).
When asked what gave him confidence the team can win four games in Tampa this week, Patterson said, "Just previous teams, you know, in the past. Cinderella teams."
Kentucky need only look to last season to find such a team. After finishing last in the Eastern Division, Georgia won the tornado-interrupted 2008 SEC Tournament.
"Georgia wasn't so good last year, but they came around," Patterson said. "We have total confidence in one another. We know we can turn this around."
Georgia needed to win the SEC Tournament to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. UK players saw no other alternative but to do the same.
"It's our NCAA Tournament," leading scorer Jodie Meeks said. "The margin of error, we don't have any margin of error now. We definitely have to win the (SEC) tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament."
UK Coach Billy Gillispie declined to say if his team deserved consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Cats came into the game with a Ratings Percentage Index of No. 79.
"I'm not on the (selection) committee," he said, "so I don't know. You'd have to talk to those guys."
Patterson stuck by his earlier statement that he does not want to play in the NIT, a tournament for teams that fail to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"I don't want to go to the NIT," Patterson said. "Because I think it's Kentucky. This basketball team we have, the NIT is not for us."
Patterson stopped short of suggesting UK should refuse to play in the NIT.
"If that's the only option we have, then I'm fine with going," he said. "But my hopes and my dreams are the NCAA Tournament."
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said that Kentucky would give an invitation to the NIT serious consideration. Since the NCAA now owns and operates the second-tier tournament, UK would want to be cooperative with officials from the NIT, he said.
Plus, UK does not want to look "arrogant" by turning down an NIT bid the year after such schools as Florida and Syracuse played in the event, Barnhart said.
The Sweet 16 high school tournament would make Rupp Arena unavailable for the NIT. Barnhart said UK would consider using Memorial Coliseum for a possible first-round NIT game.
Meeks, Patterson: Help!
Meeks and Patterson, who've accounted for about 60 percent of Kentucky's scoring against SEC teams this season, scored 30 of the team's first 36 points against Florida.
"We need someone to step up and knock down open shots and make plays," Meeks said.
When a reporter suggested that Meeks and Patterson could not score enough by themselves to assure many victories, Meeks said, "I think you're right. We can't do it alone.
"I have confidence in my teammates to knock down shots. It didn't happen today."
Patterson echoed the sentiment. "We just need other people to step up."
Harris steps up
Ramon Harris scored 14 points, a career high against an SEC team. He credited Meeks and Patterson.
"Because of Jodie being an outside force, you have to respect him out there," he said. "And Pat being an inside force, you have to respect him inside. That opens it up for (others)."
When asked about the possibility he'll enter the 2009 NBA Draft after this season, Meeks seemed to say he will return to Kentucky for his senior season.
"I haven't thought about it at all," he said of the NBA Draft. " ... For now, I'm thinking of the SEC Tournament. And I plan to come back for my senior year.
"To answer your question, I don't think about the next level at all right now."
Oh those refs
No free throws were shot in a first half that saw only four fouls called. In the second half, the referees called four fouls within the first four minutes.
"It was a hard-fought game," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "I told the officials at one point that we were playing in the wrong arena. That we should be playing in the football stadium with the amount of contact they were letting go.
"But it was for both teams."
Barnhart acknowledged meeting with Patterson's mother after UK's home loss to Georgia on Wednesday. He said he tried to soothe Tywanna Patterson's anxiety after a disappointing loss on Senior Night.
"You're a parent," Barnhart said. "You're hurting for your child. Nothing more than that."
Barnhart vehemently denied reports that Patterson's mother was upset about an NCAA Tournament bid slipping away. He called such reports "total garbage."
Darius Miller had a career-high six turnovers, all in the first half. ... Florida's star point guard, Nick Calathes, had a season-low five points and a career-high seven turnovers.