TAMPA, Fla. — Don't bad-mouth the National Invitation Tournament. Don't pick at that NIT.
That seemed to be the company line for Kentucky after a 67-58 loss to Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday.
"If we get invited, I'll be happy to play in it," freshman Darius Miller said in UK's quiet, but composed post-game locker room. "... I'll be grateful to be playing post-season basketball."
Big man Patrick Patterson voiced the same sentiment, although a few notches below gratitude. But still more acceptance than a week ago when he said that only the NCAA Tournament was good enough for Kentucky.
"I'll take it," Patterson said of a possible NIT bid. "More basketball to play would be fine with me."The NIT's appeal, perhaps its only appeal, would be that it simply provides the chance to end a difficult season with victories. "We want to win it," Patterson said.
Leading scorer Jodie Meeks and guard Michael Porter suggested UK would not go through the motions in the NIT.
"We're not going to hang our heads about it," Meeks said.
Added Porter: "Wherever we are, we're going to play our butts off, no matter what. If we do get an NIT bid, we still have to play. We can't just give up."
Kentucky has played in 17 straight NCAA Tournaments, the third-longest active streak (Arizona has played in 24 straight; Kansas has played in 19) and fifth-longest by any team. North Carolina set the record by playing in 27 straight NCAA Tournaments beginning in 1986.
Ramon Harris lamented Kentucky's fall from national championship aspirant to NIT contender.
"We put ourselves in this situation where we had to win a certain amount of games because of the way we played in conference," he said. "This is what happens when we lose early."
Temple of doom
Meeks became the latest in a line of scorers contained by LSU guard Garrett Temple. Which raised a question: Why does Temple take such pride in defending?
"I've always been on teams with guys who can score the ball," he said.
Temple played with Glen "Big Baby" Davis in high school. At LSU, he plays with SEC Player of the Year Marcus Thornton and all-league forward Tasmin Mitchell.
Earlier in his life, Temple conceded the scoring to older brother Collis Temple.
"I'm going to help my team with defense and knocking down shots if I have to," he said. "But defense is where I'm going to make my mark."
Meeks scored a season-low eight points.
"I thought he was a little antsy today," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said of Meeks. "Give credit to them. They guarded him very well. But he was probably forcing the action a little bit too much. Probably a little too keyed up to play."
With LSU inviting anyone but Meeks and Patterson to win the game, UK turned to Miller. Miller took charge in leading Mason County to the state championship last March.
This time Miller gave Kentucky a bit of hope by scoring eight points.
"It looked like they really wanted somebody else to try to beat them," Miller said.
Kentuckian for LSU
In LSU Coach Trent Johnson's post-game news conference, a reporter noted that former Tigers star Rudy Macklin had expressed his joy at a victory over Kentucky. A native of Louisville, Macklin signed with LSU in the 1970s to become Dale Brown's first marquee recruit.
"He only cares about one game and one game only: Beating Kentucky," Johnson said. "So Rudy's happy."