There are game plans to master, along with trends and tendencies to get familiar with as LSU and Alabama get ready to meet at the SEC Tournament. There's something else that looms a little more important for both teams, though, at different levels.

The 7th-seeded Tigers (18-12) and 10 seed Crimson Tide (13-18) are set to square off at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Georgia Dome on the second day of the tournament.

And the game plans, the trends, the tendencies all find a place in the back seat.

You can pick any cliche' you like best. Sense of urgency is the catchphrase the Tigers seem to have latched onto.

They all apply here -- for a Tigers' team desperate for some sort of postseason invite as well as for an Alabama team that would love to chase away some of the bad taste of its worst season, winning percentage-wise, since 1970.

Each team has the same goal; Win four games in four days to claim the SEC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"It's gut-checkin' time," said LSU senior Andre Stringer, who is nearing the finish line of a solid career that includes a lot of accomplishments, but not an NCAA Tournament berth.

"We control our destiny. We're not guaranteed anything more than one game. What we do with that is going to determine the end of our season. Me being a senior there's motivation for me to keep playing, and the only way to do that is to just win."

And to do that - especially to do that four times in four days - will require LSU to elevate its game to a level it hasn't been on in six weeks.

The Tigers appeared to be barreling toward their first NCAA spot in five years when, in a five-day span, they romped past Kentucky and Arkansas to improve to a 14-6 with a lot of season left to improve their image in a league sorely needing somebody, anybody other than Florida and UK, to garner some positive attention.

Instead, the Tigers' season flattened. They went 4-6 after the encouraging week and now are in a precarious spot to stay in the hunt for an NIT spot if they don't go 4-for-4 in Atlanta.

If that is weighing heavily on the LSU players, it was hard to tell Wednesday.

As the Tigers filed into the Georgia Dome for a public practice session, they were loose, and at the same time focused.