That ticking sound you hear is the Kentucky players' biographical clock. To hear Julius Mays, the Cats are well aware of the possibility of becoming the first John Calipari team since 2005 not to play in the NCAA Tournament.
"I haven't heard much, but it's a thought in the back of your head," Mays said Friday. "I don't think we've really won a marquee game, and every big game that we've had we've kind of choked. As an older guy, it's in the back of my head. And I'm sure the young guys think the same thing."
Kentucky has lost its two games against ranked teams: losses to Duke and Louisville. The Cats also lost to their only other opponent with a Ratings Percentage Index in the top 50 (according to Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com): Baylor.
UK's only victories against opponents with an RPI in the top 100 came against No. 64 Maryland and No. 93 Tennessee.
Kentucky has four games remaining against opponents with a top-50 RPI: Home and away with No. 5 Florida, home to No. 25 Missouri and at No. 32 Mississippi on Tuesday.
"Nah, I'm not worried," Mays said. "There's still a lot of season left, and we've still got those big games. And I still believe in my teammates, and I think that it can be turned around."
However, Mays acknowledged a growing sense of urgency among UK's players.
"I think yesterday's practice a lot of urgency was shown," he said. "I think it was one of the hardest practices we've had since I've been here. ... That was a good sign. I hope guys are realizing that it has to be turned around, and we don't have much time to keep saying the same things."
Calipari again downplayed the idea of concern about an NCAA Tournament bid.
"All we have to worry about is getting better," he said. "If we don't change, we don't have to worry about that. If we change, we don't have to worry about that."
Calipari was vague about Willie Cauley-Stein's status. The 7-foot freshman missed the last two games after undergoing what UK described as a "minor procedure" on his left knee.
"I saw him at breakfast," Calipari said. "He was walking good and all that stuff. We'll see."
Prior to UK's practice Friday afternoon, a reporter saw Cauley-Stein dressed for practice. The player did not practice Thursday, Calipari said.
Calipari lamented UK's lack of depth, which meant he could not use a benching as a teaching tool.
"We need some guys to sit," he said. "There are some guys that should not be playing except for about three or four minutes. They're playing 30. They really don't deserve to be on the court."
Calipari took responsibility for UK's 12-6 start.
"He told us stuff like that," Kyle Wiltjer said. "But for us, we need to take responsibility and really change like he's saying because he's trying hard and giving his all. We need to do the same."
When asked if Calipari's blame-me comment reflected a desire to shield the players from criticism, Wiltjer said, "Yeah. He overthinks sometimes. Definitely, he's a good coach. He's trying to make it reasonable."
LSU was credited with 19 steals in its victory over Texas A&M this week. The SEC record for steals in a league game is 23: by UK against Mississippi State in 1991, by LSU against Tennessee in 1991 and by Florida against LSU in 1999.
Coach Johnny Jones noted how pressing and trapping has allowed his team to rally against several opponents this season. "We had a big deficit against Florida and we were able to get back into the game and cut it to 12 or 13," he said before laughing. "If that's getting back into it."
Jones did not warm to the idea of pressing Kentucky.
"Kentucky is very skilled and got guys who are tremendous ball-handlers and passers," he said. "... I don't think they're a team we need to speed up."
UK played well at a faster pace, he said.
Clay Mitvick and Joe Dean Jr., will call Saturday's game for the SEC network.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com