Miller steps up when UK needs him against ODU

Miller came off the bench just fine — he started the first game before Calipari went to Doron Lamb Tuesday against Kansas and kept the starting lineup that way for the weekend games in Connecticut. But Miller had seven points in a 9-0 UK?run to close the first half that got the Cats in front.

When Darius Miller failed to score in Kentucky's 85-47 win over Penn State Saturday, the chatter started immediately.

Has coach John Calipari ruined Miller by not letting him start? Why won't Miller exert his extraordinary talent all the time? What's wrong with the senior from Mason County?

Never mind that Calipari praised Miller after his scoreless performance. The coach understood Miller's value is often impossible to determine in the boxscore.

Then again, sometimes his value leaps out at you like it did in Sunday's 62-52 win over Old Dominion in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn.

The Wildcats were struggling against an inspired, physical Old Dominion. They couldn't flow offensively like they had against Penn State. They couldn't make crucial free throws and point guard Marquis Teague again played like a freshman. Anthony Davis got in foul trouble and the Cats lost their poise just a bit when the game got chippy the second half.

Yet the one player who didn't falter was Darius Miller, Mr. Mason County. It's similar to what Patrick Patterson did two years ago on the John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins team when he sacrificed individual numbers to make the team better but was always the team's calming influence.

On Sunday, Miller had a season-high 13 points — his first game in double figures just when the Cats needed it most — and was 4-for-8 from the field. He had five assists and again proved he could get inside and find open teammates and he's now had four or more assists every game this season. He had four rebounds and one steal to round out the stat line.

And he went to the foul line and went 5-for-5 while his teammates went a horrible 5-for-12.

Calipari, who can be Miller's harshest critic and biggest supporter, made sure Big Blue Nation knew just how important the senior was in this game.

"We got out of here alive somehow, and the reason we got out of alive is because Darius played," Calipari said after the game. "If he didn't play, we'd probably get beat by 10 or 12."

Miller came off the bench just fine — he started the first game before Calipari went to Doron Lamb Tuesday against Kansas and kept the starting lineup that way for the weekend games in Connecticut. But Miller had seven points in a 9-0 UK?run to close the first half that got the Cats in front.

Miller, naturally, downplayed his contributions after the game.

"I just try to take what they give me," Miller said in the postgame press conference.

That's Miller. It's the same way he approaches the never-ending expectations fans have for him. No matter what he does, most tend to expect more rather than accept he's a team-first player (remember Patterson) who values winning more than his own numbers. He defers to others as long as Kentucky wins and will never be a player to demand the ball or pout over a lack of minutes or playing time.

Yet I contended before the season, and have not changed my mind, that Miller could be UK's most valuable player because of his experience and Sunday's game was a perfect example. What other player on this team could bounce back so effectively from not scoring on Saturday to being the team's top scorer on Sunday while doing it with a team-first attitude?

He can do a little bit of everything, just like freshman Michael-Kidd Gilchrist can. However, the talented Kidd-Gilchrist does not have Miller's experience.

One player who will be able to learn immense lessons from Miller will be Marquis Teague, who has 18 turnovers and just 11 assists in UK's first four games. During Sunday's game his totals were already being compared to early season numbers that former UK?point guards Brandon Knight and Wall had. Teague is 17-for-32 from the field (53.1 percent) and averaging 10.8 points per game and also has six steals. Yet he's being blasted for his horrible play.

Miller can relate. He's had the same barbs tossed his way. He can advise Teague to do the most important thing — listen to Calipari. I still remember in a preseason interview when Miller said his best advice to any of UK's talented freshmen would be when Calipari is scolding them, listen while looking straight at him and take the words to heart.

Miller knows because that's what he has done and will always do.

It's also why if this team's biggest problem is how Miller adjusts to coming off this bench or whatever role Calipari puts him in, then this is going to be a fantastic season. Don't worry about Miller. He'll be fine. Maybe he won't do everything you want or think he can do, but when the game ends his team likely will have won and he'll have done a little bit of everything because that's what he does best.


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