New Orleans — Darius Miller is the one Kentucky player who understands the UK-Louisville rivalry better than any other Wildcat who likely will play in Saturday's Final Four game against the Cardinals.
Miller not only grew up in Mason County — a pro-UK area — but he was recruited by Louisville coach Rick Pitino. He's also a senior and not only has played in four regular-season UK-Louisville games, but also watched many more as a youngster growing up in the Bluegrass.
"It is a huge rivalry for fans. The rivalry is just huge,"?said Miller Thursday. "Everybody in the state enjoys it. Two very competitive teams and programs going at each other. Everybody has a lot of fun. Both teams normally are good, too, so that makes it more fun. It has been nice to grow up in an environment like this and see two very competitive programs go at it."
Miller says ignoring the rivalry hype has not been that difficult this week.
"It's really not that hard for us. We have been doing that all year," Miller said. "We keep it amongst the family and don't pay attention to outside sources. We know the game is huge for fans, but we just have to continue to prepare like we have all year.
"The first game (a 69-62 UK win in Rupp Arena Dec. 31) was a tough game. They did a great job playing with high intensity. Their press caused us to make a lot of turnovers (21). We've been working on that.
"We are two totally different teams. We know they are better. We know they will be ready for us. We know we will be ready for them, so it should be an exciting game."
"Players have gotten better. Every team continues to get better during the year,"?Miller said. "It should be a lot of fun, an up tempo game. Hopefully it will come down to an exciting game and we will do our best to win."
Miller would not be drawn into a controversy on which coach — UK's John Calipari or Pitino — would want to win the game the most.
"I have not really spent a lot of time with coach Pitino. I just know what he is like from when he recruited me. He seems like a good guy," Miller said. "I know coach Cal wants to beat anybody, not just coach Pitino. He has not changed his coaching style for this game. We have prepared the same way. I have not seen any extra initiative for coach Pitino."
Miller says he can't pick a favorite UK-Louisville game or memory.
"I have seen so many. I don't know if I could ever pick one out. It's a huge rivalry and I've been blessed to see a lot of games. Just the atmosphere is amazing. There have been a lot of good games. I cannot really pick one."
This is Miller's second straight Final Four — UK lost to Connecticut in the national semifinals last year — and he says he has the same feeling as in 2011.
"We wanted to win it last year just the same way we want to win it this year," Miller said. "It feels the same. I am blessed to be part of both experiences. I have had fun both times and hope to get a (championship) ring this time.
"Last year we put way more pressure on ourselves and felt we had to win this and needed to win this. This year we are just playing basketball. Last year we were a little uptight, especially myself. We felt we needed to win. This year we are just trying to do the same things we have all year because we have been successful doing so."
"Coach knew he put pressure on us last year and he's trying not to make the same mistake. It's a huge stage. If you get too much pressure, it's tough to play. You can wear yourself out," Miller said.
Louisville does not have a player that has been to a Final Four, so Miller hopes that is a plus for UK.
"I don't know how coach Pitino will handle it. hope it is an advantage for us," Miller said.
Kentucky's players enjoyed some free time when they were in New Orleans three weeks ago for the Southeastern Conference Tournament. They roamed Bourbon Street as a group and often went out to eat with family members. Miller says this time it has been a "whole lot of media, practice and then just relaxing amongst each other" rather than going out.
"For us, this is a basketball trip. We are not trying to see everything. We have a huge opportunity ahead. We are not trying to do anything else," the UK senior said.
"We haven't really been paying any attention to any of it (the rivalry). Most of our time we are with the coaching staff. We are not around anybody else.?Our focus is trying to win a championship. Louisville or whatever, it doesn't matter. We just take it as the next game, get down to our game plan and get dedicated to it." That's one reason Miller says he has not spent a lot of time talking to UK's freshmen about the importance of the rivalry to fans this week. "I don't try to feed into it. That just puts more pressure on the team and we don't need that. If somebody asks me about it, I?say it is a big rivalry to people in the state. But they should not need worry. We just need to play basketball."