Kentucky head coach John Calipari has always been fond of an analogy comparing the end of a season to a plane approaching the runway. The pilot knows he's eventually got to land, but it's comforting to have a little extra runway to navigate.
For the No. 11 Wildcats, the landing strip has gotten much smaller than it once appeared from high above.
"We've gotta get better," Calipari said Wednesday on his weekly radio show. "It's (about) us zeroing in... We're not near where we need to be, and we've got tough games coming up."
A much-closer-than-expected 72-62 win on Tuesday at Missouri prompted Calipari's comments. Any road win in conference play is technically a "good win," he noted, but a coach has to remain focused on the bigger picture.
"You've got to enjoy this stuff, but as a coach, I've got to be able to look at this and say, 'Alright this isn't good enough right now.' We've got to start moving forward and have guys start buying into here's how we must play," Calipari said.
Kentucky (23-5, 13-2 SEC) may have only one more opportunity to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee as No. 13 Florida (23-5, 13-2 SEC) visits Lexington for a rematch at Rupp Arena that may determine the league's regular-season champion and highest seed for March Madness.
The Gators pounded the Cats 88-66 on Feb. 4 in Gainesville, by far UK's worst loss of the season.
"It affected our team confidence, our swagger," Calipari admitted.
Kentucky has won five straight since that loss, but only in an 83-58 rout of Tennessee did the Cats look like the intimidating squad from earlier this season.
The UK boss has been preaching the importance of individual confidence the last week or so.
"What I said today in a meeting and some film, I said 'You've got to be a consistent guy.' In other words, you can be 5-10 percent above yourself or 5-10 percent below yourself, but you can't come in and have the bottom fall out in a game. You can't be that guy. You can't go for 25 and then not be able to catch a ball or stay in front of somebody or be so out of it that you can't move your feet. That's what we've got to get away from.
"We've got to have guys, when we stick them in the game, we know what we're getting from them."
In the win over Missouri, the Cats got some late fireworks from De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, but freshman center Bam Adebayo was really the only player who turned in a complete effort. He finished with a team-high 22 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and three blocked shots to save UK from a loss to an opponent near the SEC cellar for most of the season.
Calipari maintains the swagger is all tied to defense.
"We showed them some tape of the Mississippi game down there (in Oxford), just defensively, how we worked, how we played and how individuals really got after people and how that affected how we played offensively," Calipari said of the dominant 99-76 win on Dec. 29.
The Cats held the Rebels to 37.5 percent from the field, forced 15 turnovers, and converted the miscues into 21 points, including 20 fast-break points.
"This thing, if we're really going to get it rolling, it's going to be with defense," he added.