Teague, Miller disappoint in SEC Tournament opener

NEW ORLEANS — Marquis Teague had struggled so much in his first postseason game that head coach John Calipari felt compelled to pull him aside for a one-on-one chat after UK beat LSU.

“Look,” Calipari said he told him, “I got all the faith in the world in you.”

Calipari’s belief was unshaken despite Teague’s letdown of a game. He scored two points, missed all five shot attempts and turned the ball over four times. How much of Calipari’s continued confidence is borne out of necessity is unclear — he’s never hidden the fact that he turns into the biggest cheerleader for his team at the close of the season to boost their confidence — but it might not matter. His external support, what Teague (and the rest of Big Blue Nation) hears, is unfailing.

In the middle of the second half, with Teague in the midst of his shaky performance, Calipari came over to Teague on the bench to let him know it.

“He was encouraging me, just trying to get me on track,” Teague said. “I was having a rough day.”

UK, overall, had a rough day. It beat No. 8 seed 60-51 after a Terrence Jones 9-0 run in the middle of the second half turned a deficit into a lead the Cats wouldn’t relinquish, but the Cats struggled through most of their SEC tournament opener.

It started in the beginning, when LSU came out more aggressive, more energetic, like it had something — well, more — to play for.

“Usually it’s teams fighting for their lives,” Terrence Jones said of the types of teams UK will soon encounter, and LSU is definitely one of those teams. “They play like there’s everything on the line. Especially with us, having a target on our backs, we have to know and that and we have to come out and play.”

That mentality must extend to each player. Yes, its three stars turned in solid-to-great performances. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (19 points, nine rebounds), Anthony Davis (12 points, 14 rebounds) and Jones (15 points, 11 rebounds) each had a stretch of individual dominance.

But to do what it wants to do — everybody now, “win a national championship” — UK will need a more well-rounded effort than what it gave against LSU. That’s what got it to this point: 31-1, 17-0 against SEC teams, a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Darius Miller, last year’s SEC Tournament MVP, was a complete non-factor, scoring zero points on 0-for-2 shooting in 17 minutes. Miller had averaged 11.6 points on 9.2 shots in the season’s last five games.

“It’s hard when Darius isn’t in that zone, so to speak, because it puts pressure on the rest of us to make shots,” Calipari said.

Kyle Wiltjer, another player who had shown he could make shots and provide an extra dimension on offense, wasn’t able to make an impact in his seven minutes on the floor, either. The only non-zero values on his stat line were in blocks (1) and fouls (1).

It was the first time all season the Cats had zero bench points.

And Teague, who has played so, so well — and it’s his performance Calipari cites as the main factor in making this team go — clearly regressed. He had four of UK’s 18 turnovers, the most it had since Jan. 3 against Arkansas-Little Rock. He was lazy with his passes and you could see his bad performance weighing on him as the game wore on.

He’s been the most crucial component to UK operating at its maximum level. Whether this game was simply an anomaly, and a little Calipari pep talk can restore his game, remains to be seen.

But he, and UK, hopes it will.

“This is when you want to be at your best, in tournament time,” Teague said. “We need to keep improving.”

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