Kentucky seemingly will be playing to extend its basketball season on Wednesday night. The opponent, lowly Georgia, could be playing to get one game closer to finishing its season.
That kind of all-or-nothing dichotomy should infuse Kentucky with can-do motivation and Georgia with get-it-over-with resignation.
Except UK Coach Billy Gillispie isn't buying what seems obvious.
"You're not going to get me or us to bite (on that premise) or feel sorry for them," he said on Tuesday. "Or feel we're any better than they are."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
UK reserve Josh Harrellson cited a superiority complex as a factor in a recent skid that saw the Cats lose six of their past nine games. That followed a heady five-game winning streak to begin Southeastern Conference play.
"We let a lot of stuff get to our heads," Harrellson said. "Being ranked."As a result, Kentucky lost its identity as a scrappy team that won by outworking the opposition.
"We were grinders," Harrellson said.
Teammate Perry Stevenson echoed the sentiment. He noted that the grinders lost their groove "when we stopped getting those 50-50 balls. ... Doing all the little things."
Georgia has gone through a spirit-sapping season. The school fired Coach Dennis Felton shortly after Kentucky won by 23 points in Athens in January. That was part of an 0-for-January stretch for Georgia. That 0-8 record in January was part of an 11-game losing streak.
That begged the question of how much life the Bulldogs will bring to Rupp Arena.
"We've been through a lot," interim coach Pete Herrmann said. "It's been an emotional roller coaster."
With his voice softening to a near whisper, he added, "I've been a coach for a long time. It's a tough situation right now."
As if Mother Nature piled on, a snowstorm complicated Georgia's return from an 89-67 loss at Arkansas on Sunday. The storm closed the Athens airport. The Plan B to land in Greenville, S.C., had to be changed when that airport closed. The team finally landed in Atlanta, then had to bus through more than 6 inches of snow to get to Athens by midnight.
When asked about the importance of having a tangible goal to play for this deep into a season, Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said it was paramount.
"It's huge," he said. "When your kids are playing for something, obviously, your kids aren't going through the motions (and) wondering, 'Why are we doing this? Why are we playing this game? It doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot.' "
Lebo stopped short of saying players in a hopeless situation can mail in performances.
"I don't think kids quit," he said. "It's just the toughness to endure practices. If things don't go well, hey, it really doesn't matter. ...
"Kids won't say it. But deep down, there is that feeling that exists when you're not playing for something."
As Gillispie said, he's not buying it. He said Georgia could try to get on a roll and win the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs did just that last March in salvaging their season, although the UK coach ignored that the player who led the effort, point guard Sundiata Gaines, was a senior.
Gillispie smiled and countered that Georgia has a future star in freshman forward Howard "Trey" Thompkins
The Cats mentioned Georgia's recent victories over Florida and Vanderbilt as reasons to be wary. But both those victories came in Athens.
On the road in the SEC, Georgia is 0-7 with an average margin of defeat of 18.1 points.
Whatever Georgia's merits, Kentucky has dwindling reasons to look down on opponents. Gillispie lamented the 10-point second-half leads that slipped away in losses to the SEC's two divisional leaders, Louisiana State on Saturday and South Carolina on Jan. 31.
He blamed the failure to dig in defensively and make stops and/or get defensive rebounds. He pondered immaturity as a factor.
"I don't know if it's a mind-set," Gillispie said, "but it has to stop immediately because we're getting down to the nitty-gritty."
As Harrellson saw it, Kentucky has no more room for error in getting an NCAA Tournament bid.
"We have to win out," he said. "At least three (games), maybe four."