A fitting finale: Miller leads UK past Georgia with 17 points

By Aaron Smith

Darius Miller, true to his word, shed no tears on Senior Night.

After all, what was there to be sad about? He’s on the No. 1 team that improved to 29-1 with a 30-point win over Georgia. He led the team in scoring with 17 points on Senior Night, capping a third straight year of going undefeated at Rupp Arena. His grandmother made it to Rupp Arena, the first time she’s watched him play college basketball — although she didn’t join him for the mid-court ceremonies.

“Doesn’t like the attention,” Miller said.

Neither does Miller, really. He wouldn’t have had the career he had if that’s something he valued.

“Incredible career here,” head coach John Calipari said. “And he did it by sacrificing for the team.”

Beside Miller on the court before the game was Eloy Vargas. While Miller had more family members in the stands than went on the court, Vargas had less. His mother wasn’t able to catch a plane out of the Dominican Republic in time. Instead, Calipari’s wife, Ellen, and assistant coach Orlando Antigua’s wife, Dana, joined him.

“It meant a lot to me,” Vargas said.

Rupp Arena cheered for both.

The crowd, soaking in the Senior Night send-off, created an atmosphere that overwhelmed Georgia’s players.

“Just the look in their eyes,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “You could see they were rattled by the environment.”

For UK, it was an amplifying effect — for no one more so than Vargas.

Who would have taken him as the one to have the immediate impact? Vargas came out with no abandon. In the opening 4:18 of the game, he took four shots, grabbed three rebounds, scored two points and forced one five-second violation.

Miller got on the board eventually, scoring his first points on a 3-pointer with 3:37 left in the first half. He had missed his first three shots, but heated up before too long.

Every time Miller sank a three — and there were plenty, as he launched nine of them — up went the signs: the shimmering, sparkly, “I <3 Darius” (except the heart was an actual red heart) poster; the fathead of Miller’s face and an accompanying 3-goggle sign that was placed over his right eye for every made three; the Hello Kitty cardboard cutout (wait, no, that was just weird).

When he finally checked out of the game and hugged each of his teammates — one more batch of players he had to gel with as he remained the one constant through four years of immense change — the Rupp Arena crowd roared again.

While it was Senior Night, it was also an unofficial, unwilling last look at some, most or all of the other stars. Who’s leaving and who’s staying isn’t worth speculating about now. There’s plenty of time for that later. But it was likely the last home game for at least one — and as many as five — non-seniors.

They didn’t get any special ceremony, didn’t get a jersey commemorating their time at the school. What they got was another game of normalcy, which for them was another game of ridiculous basketball.

As late as the 8:09 mark, UK had double the points of Georgia (72-36) after making seven straight 3-pointers. Terrence Jones continued playing with physicality. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist again flashed his dance moves before the game and displayed his skill during it. Anthony Davis had another of his patently absurd dunks.

Throughout the game, though, they deferred to the departing seniors.

“I like that guys were willing to step back,” Calipari said, “and let Darius and Eloy have their day.”