By beating Arkansas on Saturday, Kentucky will almost assuredly secure its first No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll since the final balloting of the 2002-03 season.
After prodded by reporters, UK players acknowledged on Friday that they would enjoy scratching that seven-year itch.
"That's every player's dream," Ramon Harris said. "You always want to be the top dog. No matter what you're doing. If you're playing chess. If you're playing video games. You always want to be the best."
But the Cats put a higher priority on another top-dog designation.
"We have goals we want to reach further down in the season," freshman sensation John Wall said. "Coach says he wants to be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament."
The coach, John Calipari, corroborated Wall's comment.
"If this game Saturday helps us get the No. 1 seed, that's all fine," he said. "But who knows? It's not life and death. Let's see if we're playing the way we need to play."
Toward that end, Calipari said he spent an entire team meeting Tuesday emphasizing the need to bring a new approach to practice.
Forget that Kentucky is the last unbeaten team in Division I. Remember what it's like to be cornered by a losing streak.
"Start practicing like we're on a two-game losing streak," Calipari said he told the players. "We just lost two in a row. What are you going to do to get ready because if you don't start stepping up and practicing that way, we are going to lose two in a row."
Calipari said he used Purdue as an example. The Boilermakers won their first 14 games to set a school record for best start to a season. "They're partying and having fun," Calipari said.
Then three straight losses took the fizz out of Purdue's metaphorical champagne.
To keep Kentucky's good times rolling along, Calipari said he's become more aggressive in practice. He's also extended the daily workouts by 15 minutes or so.
Wall welcomed the change.
"I think that's the best thing Coach Cal did except for Camp Cal," he said, meaning the extended workouts during the semester break. "Everybody's coming to practice going harder than before."
Calipari was not so upbeat.
"Sometimes" the players go harder, he said. "But sometimes they revert because they're so young. That's why we play 15-minute ball games."
Calipari suggested Arkansas (8-10 overall, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) was too dangerous an opponent to let stay in a game. That's because of shooter Rotnei Clarke, who leads the nation in three-pointers per game (3.9) and ranks fourth nationally in three-point accuracy (49.3 percent).
"Our issue is we don't play 40 minutes," Calipari said. "There's a point in the game we stop playing."
The opponents rally. "And we think we're fine," the UK coach said. "With a kid like Clarke, you think you're fine and all of a sudden he makes two. ... We have to guard against that letdown."
Wall noted how Sam Houston State's Corey Allmond made a Rupp Arena record 11 three-pointers and scored 37 points in a near upset victory over Kentucky in November.
"We don't want him to get hot," Wall said of Clarke. "He can change the game in a minute. Like playing Sam Houston State and that kid (Allmond) scored a lot and changed the game. We don't want nothing like that to happen again."
Calipari noted the fine line between playing pressure-free basketball and being careless. He grumped about the players joking around as they prepared for practice.
"I'm trying to tighten that up: Let's be a little more vicious," he said.
Then he spoke enviously of the free-and-easy approach he expected from Arkansas.
"They're going to come in the building and play well," the UK coach said. "Nothing to lose. Let it go. Shoot balls from half court. Shoot a hook. It doesn't matter."
Calipari said he disliked teams that play not to lose. Take a shot if you're open. Dive on the floor for a loose ball. Play basketball with the key word being play.
"Don't play not to lose," said Calipari, who dismissed the wisdom of football's prevent defense.
"Prevent defense prevents you from winning," he said.
UK players insisted they feel no pressure to get to No. 1 or remain undefeated.
"Nah," Perry Stevenson said. "You don't let it faze you. You come to practice and come back to reality."
He defined reality as "hard work. It's not easy. It actually hurts."
Speaking of a sting, Stevenson admitted a loss to Arkansas with a No. 1 ranking on the line would leave a mark.
"That might hurt," he said. "And we don't want that to happen."