Before every home game, Kentucky proclaims its "greatest tradition in the history of college basketball." But given the present circumstances, forward Terrence Jones would happily embrace a relatively modest second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.
Second place behind Florida would earn Kentucky a first-round bye in next week's SEC Tournament. That tasty carrot helped UK beat Vanderbilt 68-66 Tuesday.
"We just knew we weren't going to lose at home," Jones said after the game. "We're trying to win to get that bye."
The importance of a first-round bye is obvious.
"It means a game off," Jones said.
With byes, the first- and second-place teams in each division must win three games to be crowned SEC Tournament champions. All other teams must win four.
One less game can mean a lot in a season when there's no dominant SEC team and few pushovers.
"It's any-given-night when it comes to play in this conference," Jones said. "Teams can get hot and really want to beat you and really come out and play."
Jones nodded when a reporter suggested that four games in four days might be too much to ask of a team like Kentucky, which depends on a six-man rotation.
"Six guys get 30 minutes-plus a night," he said. "It's much better (if) you're playing three instead of four."
With Georgia's victory over LSU on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs joined Kentucky and Vanderbilt in a three-way tie for second going into the final weekend. If it remains a three-way tie, Vandy would have the tiebreaker advantage because it swept Georgia.
The tiebreaker advantage in a two-way tie goes to Kentucky because of a better divisional record than either Vandy or Georgia.
A four-way tie with Tennessee remains possible, too.
Besides keeping alive its hopes for that No. 2 bye, Kentucky took solace in how it beat Vandy. UK had an 0-6 record in games decided by four or fewer points until beating the Commodores.
"We just had to win for us to remain confident in ourselves," Jones said. He explained the potential impact of another close loss "in terms of having worries going into the (SEC) tournament. ...
"I just want us to go into the tournament with confidence. We just beat a top team in the division. We should have nothing to worry about."
If so inclined, the Cats can take confidence from the fact that the teams with better SEC records (Florida and Alabama) beat Kentucky by only two points on their home courts.
UK Coach John Calipari saw a can-do spirit reflected in Brandon Knight and Jones making seven of eight free throws in the final 96 seconds against Vanderbilt.
"As we had to fight through it, it was good for us," he said. "It showed that we have to get tougher. But the will to win was there."
Not that Calipari was entirely happy. He noted a possession in which Vandy got one, two, three shots before John Jenkins cashed in a fourth-chance opportunity with a three-pointer that reduced UK's shrinking lead to 57-56.
" 'I hope someone gets this (ball),' " Calipari said as if reading the players' thoughts. "No. You get it. There should be three of our guys saying, 'I'm getting this ball.' That's a competitive spirit."
UK once enjoyed an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points in the game. Vandy scored the game's final 10 second-chance points.
"We became the aggressor," Coach Kevin Stallings said.
Harrellson invited to Portsmouth
Josh Harrellson has been invited to play in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, an NBA tryout camp set for April 6-9, Calipari said.
"... A lot of good things are happening for him, and I'm proud of him," Calipari said. "Just happy for him."
Harrellson expressed an appreciation for the invite.
"It's an honor," he said. "... That makes me feel really good about myself and definitely boosts my confidence."
Gilchrist, Davis finalists
UK signees Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis are among four finalists for the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year Award, McDonald's announced Wednesday.
Finalists must not only possess skill on the court, but also demonstrate character and leadership qualities, a news release said.
Other finalists are North Carolina-bound James McAdoo and Duke signee Austin Rivers.
The winner will be announced March 15.