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You needed to have a thesaurus on hand during UK’s 90-59 shellacking of South Carolina to find as many synonyms as possible for the word “dominant.”
Really, aside from some lulls by the Cats’ in the second half thanks to the Gamecocks’ press and an inability to replicate a John Wall-like bounce pass for a dunk, the Cats didn’t do much wrong the entire game.
One particularly dominant UK player was junior guard Darius Miller; however, “dominant” hasn’t necessarily been the word most associated with Miller throughout his UK career. You’d be better suited to look for the antonyms of “dominant” in the thesaurus when trying to describe Miller.
However, it was Miller, the same player who many thought would stop his tendency to fade in-and-out of crucial parts of games following an 18-point performance against the Gamecocks in Columbia on Jan. 22, who victimized South Carolina once more, this time for a career-high 22 points.
“Darius Miller was unbelievable tonight,” South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. “I don’t know any role player that goes for 22.”
Going for 22 was as easy as one, two, three, four, five, six, for Miller, who hit his first six 3-pointers before finally missing on his seventh attempt from beyond the arc.
The unassuming Miller was even doing it on the glass and on defense: He registered nine rebounds against “a good rebounding team,” according to Calipari, and recorded more first-half blocks (three) than the entire South Carolina team (two) had in the first half in helping UK to a 29-point lead at the intermission.
Although nearly perfect, Miller was not without his flaws on the court.
“I thought Darius Miller had one stretch where I wanted to choke him,” Calipari said. “He’d played so well, so strong, so aggressive. Why would (he) go for two minutes and revert?”
Calipari didn’t resort to pulling a reverse-Latrell Sprewell-P.J. Carlesimo-coach-player-choking-situation, but late in the game, Miller began playing softer on the defensive end; his coach let him know about it (angrily, of course) from the sidelines and then after the game, too, Miller said.
“I kind of expect that from (Calipari) though, so it’s nothing different,” Miller said with a laugh.
Miller may know what to expect from Calipari, but it’s still difficult to determine what to expect from Miller.
After all, Miller’s reversion to his nonchalant playing style occurred only one game after his last stellar performance against the Gamecocks, a stretch of four games in single-digit scoring, before he rekindled his form as of late.
The major question is how can Miller sustain the effort he displayed Saturday afternoon (or even just half of that effort)?
Because when Miller transforms from a role player to a primary scorer, the Cats revert to their winning ways.
“We just got to stay focused and totally dedicated to basketball,” the veteran Miller said. “Every single day has to be about basketball; we’re coming to the end of the season, and if we really want to be successful and be a championship team, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”