Player notes from UK v. Mississippi Valley State

Lost by seemingly everyone (including me) in the midst of John Calipari’s ejection, Brandon Knight’s half court shot, Randall Cobb and Danny Trevathan’s appearance and chants of “One more year,” and Joe B. Hall and 40 of his former players coming back to Rupp Arena was the game itself, an 85-60 win for UK. So let’s take a quick look back at the game.

UK had five players — Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, Doron Lamb and Knight — score in double figures. The Cats used a 24-4 run late in the first half to break the game open and ensure the win. Here’s some player notes, along with accompanying quotes, from the game.

Terrence Jones led the team with 19 points, but 15 came in the second half when the game was well in hand. He was limited in the first half with early foul trouble.

“He has some numbers, but they’re not real,” Calipari said. “Those numbers, I mean, how do you start the game this way? In a league game, a big game, kind of like North Carolina, you can’t do that.”

Still, UK went to Jones to start the second half, despite Calipari saying Jones had a lackadaisical halftime warmup.

“The first five minutes of the second half we went right at Terrence (Jones).”All of a sudden it was a 17- or 18-point game.”

Darius Miller had a good stat line, probably his best of the season, with 14 points, five assists, three rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two turnovers in 30 minutes. Still, Calipari wasn’t content with that production.

“He is. He’s better than he’s playing,” Calipari said. “Again, you know, he goes for 14, five assists, and I’m saying he’s okay. I’m telling you, he’s better than he’s playing. He’s kind of like stuck, you know, on the floor at times instead of being aggressive and confident enough.”

All season long, the standard for Miller is for him to be “the man,” rather than a complementary piece. He understands Calipari still wanting more.

“Coach expects a lot out of me,” Miller said. “He tells me everyday, and I just have to continue to work hard and keep my head up and try to get better everyday.”

Calipari said the only way for Miller to become what the Cats need him to be is through demonstrated performance, so that the coach doesn’t have to artificially inflate his confidence for him.

“I mean, again, he goes 14 and five assists, five-for-five from the line, and I’m saying he’s better than that. That’s how much I believe in him,” Calipari said. “But it’s not what I think or believe. He’s got to see it and do it himself.”

Doron Lamb again had a nice game off the bench, scoring 16 points, although it was on 4 of 12 shooting. Being a sparkplug off the bench is fine with Lamb, who said he was “comfortable” with the role.

“I’m getting starter minutes, though, so it doesn’t really matter,” Lamb said, who is averaging 28 minutes per game. “As long as I’m out there playing and helping my teammates win.”

Eloy Vargas had two points and six rebounds, which tied his season high.

“First two or three tough rebounds he’s gotten this year, he got today,” Calipari said. “Basically what I’m telling him, ‘If you get the ball jerked out of your hand, I’m taking you out.’ So either hold on to the ball and bring it in or come out, you’re not playing.”

Still, Vargas is a targeted player for opposing teams. Sitting on the MVSU end of the court, I could hear Sean Woods telling Paul Crosby to take it to Vargas on the block when Crosby was posting up. At one point, MVSU went to Crosby three straight possessions, and each time Woods was urging Crosby to take it himself.

DeAndre Liggins scored 14 points on an efficient 6-for-11 shooting, following up a 19-point performance against Indiana, and grabbed five rebounds. He spoke again of how his role is defense-first, and the offense will come out of that.

“It feels good (to score) but it’s not what I do,” Liggins said. “I’m a defensive player. If the opportunity is there for me to score then I’ll take it. I’m a defensive player and I know that is my role on this team and if I continue to do that my offense will come naturally.”

Stacey Poole and Jon Hood were nearly nonexistent during the game, and not in the “disappearing while on the floor” way. Hood saw two minutes of playing time, and Poole never left the bench. This came a week after Calipari said Poole would be taking Hood’s minutes after he proved himself worthy of a chance.

Of course, Calipari did get ejected with about six minutes left to play, so it’s unclear whether he planned on playing them toward the tail end of the game. But that still means he was not wanting to play them in the first or early second half, when the game’s outcome was still being determined.

“I was playing the six or seven we’re going to be playing,” Calipari said. “I’m just playing those guys. And then I think I got tossed about seven minutes to go. So whether I would have put him in or not, I don’t know.”

Brandon Knight, well, he had that amazing half court shot.