Kentucky is gearing up for another NCAA Tournament run.
But first the fourth-ranked Wildcats have the SEC tournament to deal with.
"We're definitely going in trying to win," forward P.J. Washington recently told the media. "(But) at the end of the day, I don't really think the SEC tournament really matters. It's the NCAA Tournament (that matters), and we know that."
The Wildcats (26-5) had two byes and play their tournament opener against 10th-seeded Alabama in the quarterfinals Friday night.
Kentucky coach John Calipari is coaching in his 10th SEC tournament and he said this year's field is "by far the most balanced" he has seen in his tenure.
As evidence, his Wildcats are the second seed, behind ninth-ranked LSU.
"You're talking about eight, nine teams that have an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament," Calipari said of the conference. "Anybody that's playing, it's a hard a game, the first game. It doesn't matter if you're playing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday -- your game is going to be a hard game."
Kentucky was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll but lost its season opener against Duke. The Wildcats also lost two of their final eight games, falling to LSU and Tennessee, a potential semifinal opponent Saturday.
"I think we've been through the ups and downs of college basketball," freshman guard Keldon Johnson said. "We've been in places where they thought we were the worst team and we've been in places where they thought we were one of the best teams in the nation. We just gotta go out there every day and do what we do.
"It's go time. Let's get it done. Let's do what we do. That's what we're here for."
Alabama (18-14) was just 8-10 in the SEC, but strengthened its case for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 62-57 quarterfinal win over seventh-seeded Ole Miss on Thursday night.
"We think our resume speaks for itself, but beyond that we've got another game (Friday) night and we're still alive," Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said. "This team has been inconsistent all year, but this is a great time to start being consistent and playing some great basketball.
"I've been in a lot of big games and I was just sitting there in the locker room with my legs crossed before the game, just letting (the players) know that I'm ready to go. I'm calm, cool and collected. I've got a lot of confidence in them."
And he maintained that confidence even after the Rebels took a 38-24 lead at the half as Alabama committed 10 turnovers.
"I just asked them (at halftime) to please turn the ball over five times or less (in the second half)," Johnson said. "We turned it over six times, but I'll forgive them. We were just beating ourselves."
The Tide outscored Ole Miss 38-19 in the second half.
"This team seems to respond when our backs are against the wall," Johnson said, "and our backs were definitely against the wall tonight."
Alabama gave Kentucky its first SEC loss, prevailing 77-75 in the conference opener for both teams Jan. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"We've got a deep rotation and we're going to be fresh and ready to go," Johnson said. "And hopefully we'll come out and give ourselves a chance to win."
--Field Level Media