"I think we are playing better as a team," said Rajon Rondo, "but we can't afford to stop and catch our breath. We have another game tomorrow."
And that game is against South Carolina, who disposed of regular season SEC East Champions, the Tennessee Volunteers. Despite their two regular season victories over the Gamecocks, there was little indication that the Cats are looking past this game.
"South Carolina is a good team," said Rondo, "and even though we beat them twice, they beat Florida twice, and Florida has beaten us twice. We are not going to take them for granted. We need to go out there and play as best we can. They are going to be tough."
Indeed, they will. And as for taking South Carolina for granted because Kentucky has beaten them twice, consider that Tennessee had also beaten the Gamecocks twice - - before today.
"Like coach has been saying, it's a new season," said center Randolph Morris, one of the heroes of Friday's come back win over Alabama. "We are not going to rest on our laurels. When you get this far in the tournament, you are going to face a team every day that has the ability to beat you if you make a mistake. You have to play your absolute best and force them to make mistakes."
One player that the Cats need to keep an eye on is 6-foot-1 Tre Kelley, who exploded for 25 points, 8 assists and five rebounds against Tennessee Friday. "Kelley killed us today," said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl after the game, "we didn't have an answer for him."
And defensively, South Carolina took the SEC 3-point shooting leader pretty much out of the game. Lofton failed to score in the first half, finishing just 4-14 from the field, with some of the baskets coming very late in the game when the outcome was decided.
"They defended us very well," Pearl said, "they played Lofton about as well as anyone has this year."
But Kentucky played pretty good defense on Friday as well, holding 1st-Team All SEC point guard Ronald Steele to just 3-15 shooting. "I think we match up with them (South Carolina) pretty well," said Ramel Bradley, "we are going to have to really focus."
Another player who has been putting it together this tournament is Renaldo Balkman, who chipped in with 16 points and 7 rebounds Friday. Balkman had been fairly quiet in the two games against UK, but has played well in Nashville. "Balkman is aggressive and so is their other big man (Brandon) Wallace," said Morris, "they have been playing well and they are really trying to get into the NCAA Tournament."
At 16-14 overall (6-10 SEC), a win over Kentucky, advancing to the finals, may well earn them an NCAA win. Should they beat UK and win the tournament outright, they will gain a bid automatically. Kentucky probably secured the NCAA bid with the win over Ole Miss, but the Cats are anything but complacent about the rest of the tournament.
"We have things to prove," said senior Ravi Moss, "to out fans and to ourselves. We know they we are capable of doing well. We really want this victory to establish momentum for the tournament."
Kentucky's rivalry with South Carolina in post season play dates all the way back to 1928 when Kentucky beat them 56-40 in the Southern Conference Tournament in Atlanta. Since then, the Wildcats have faced the Gamecocks in four SEC Tournaments, with the Cats winning three of them.