Eric Bledsoe missed two free throws late in the stretch run at Vanderbilt. That served as a fitting punctuation on one of his least-productive games: 2-for-8 shooting, three turnovers and, perhaps most alarming, a technical foul for exchanging angry words with Jeffery Taylor after blatantly shoving the Vandy player.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari was relieved to see Bledsoe smiling in the locker room after UK won 58-56 and among the first to congratulate teammate John Wall for a game-saving block in the final seconds.
"If you're not happy after a win, you're more concerned about you," Calipari said on Wednesday. "It's hard to play on a national championship team (if a player is concerned with a personal agenda). ... It's about us winning. What do you have to do for us to win?"
One of the big questions hanging over Kentucky as post-season nears is whether some emotional outburst will cost the Cats dearly in the one-and-done atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament.
When asked about concerns he might have with Bledsoe or fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins losing control, Calipari said he spoke to the entire team about maintaining poise. The UK coach noted that an immature player can compound an error by dwelling on it and committing another.
"We have a lot of that on this team," Calipari said.
During a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday, Calipari spoke of the make-or-break implications of becoming too emotional.
"By the time March rolls around, we're going to have less and less of this, hopefully," he said. "Or we're not going to be the team we need to be."
To drive home the point, Calipari said he reminded the players of the long-range consequences of a technical foul or emotional outburst coming at an inopportune time.
"Would you want to be the guy that cost us that opportunity?" Calipari said he asked the players. "Could you live with that?"
Too much is at stake to be concerned with personal duels or protecting turf, the UK coach said.
"I'm a man. He pushed me," Calipari said of a player's possible reasoning for becoming emotional. "Stop. I missed a shot so now I better go back to foul. Or I can't think because I'm embarrassed.
"You've got to get by that."
Don't touch Downey?
UK reserve Daniel Orton lamented how South Carolina star Devan Downey got to the foul line so much in Columbia (making 10 of 11 free throws).
"We couldn't even touch Devan Downey," Orton said. "One time he drove into me. I think I was standing straight up. And I jumped backward. And he jumped into me and they called a foul. There was not much I could do down there."
Orton called for help from the referees in the rematch.
"Hopefully here, we can have the refs help us out a little bit," he said.
Downey hasn't been getting to the line much lately. In South Carolina's last three games, he's shot only 14 free throws (making 11).
"The refs are telling me I'm initiating all the contact," Downey said.
When Kentucky played Tennessee, Calipari was asked if the presence of ESPN's College GameDay show might distract the Cats as much as a call from President Barack Obama complicated UK's preparation for the game at South Carolina.
"I don't think that had anything to do with how we played," the UK coach said of Obama's call. "Some of it was South Carolina and how they played and how the little kid played to finish the game."
The "little kid" was Downey.
■ If Vanderbilt loses to visiting Georgia in Thursday night's other Southeastern Conference game, Kentucky will clinch at least a tie for its 44th league championship by beating South Carolina. All other members of the league, past and present, have won a combined 46 SEC regular-season titles.
■ Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale will call the game for ESPN.