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Rapid Rewind: Miller bites Dogs

Jan. 24, 2012
Stegeman Coliseum; Athens, Ga.

ATHENS, Ga. – Kentucky’s history as the No. 1-ranked team on the road under John Calipari has not been a resume-topper. First, South Carolina upended the Cats a day after reaching the top of polls two years ago, then Indiana did the deed in December.

There was no such repeat at Georgia.

Darius Miller torched the Stegeman Coliseum nets as Kentucky cruised to a 57-44 victory in another sold out venue. Miller finished with 19 points to tie his season high, hitting 7-of-8 shots and all four of his three-point attempts.

Miller and Kyle Wiltjer scored 13 of the Cats’ last 15 points in the first half, turning a one-point edge into a 12-point cushion. The Cats (20-1, 6-0 SEC) pushed the lead to 16 early in the second half and played stingy enough defense to survive a long lull that followed.

On holding Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to seven points:
“We put our best defender on him. We chased him. But he's good. I mean, he's really good. But this is a team where he knows, normally he can get by the guy guarding him and get something to the rim. Here, he's got 6-10 guys down in there and it's just a little bit tougher.”

“Their length and their size just overpowers you. Defensively they can switch everything and maintain a size advantage, and then you add (Anthony) Davis, who is just a great protector of the basket. They have a lot of great defensive pieces.” – Georgia coach Mark Fox, on Kentucky’s defense

“I know there are times when I'm going to have to step up and all the guys feel the same way. If you look back, there have been different guys every game. There are going to be different games where we have different leaders and I think we all understand that. The guys did a good job of looking for me when I was hitting." – UK guard Darius Miller

Ever the coach, John Calipari did not want to lavish Darius Miller with praise after Kentucky’s victory but there is no denying the senior guard put the Cats on his back in the first half when the game was still up for grabs. Miller scored 13 points by the break, including seven straight in a span of 94 seconds, as the Cats opened a 12-point lead that never slipped to single digits in the second half. Miller finished with 19 points, tying his season high, and hit all four of his three-pointers, pushing his accuracy behind the arc in SEC play to 52.6 percent this season.

Georgia was hanging around late in the first half when a pair of unlikely Cats took control on the offensive end and engineered a 15-4 spurt that buried the Dogs. Freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer started the run with a three in transition and ended it with another triple, adding a blocked shot in the middle for good measure. Wiltjer’s three-pointers served as bookends to a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist baseline dunk and Miller’s seven consecutive points, which came on three straight possessions.

Not everything was peachy for Kentucky, which gave Calipari plenty of fodder for coaching moments both down the stretch and surely in the coming days of practice. The Cats had a major lull in the second half, scoring only five points during a span of 10:43 that saw them connect on 2-of-14 shots. Suffocating defense kept Georgia from slicing into the healthy lead but it was a mystifying 10 minutes that simply can’t happen as UK faces the upper half of the SEC and heads into postseason play.

13 – Kentucky’s defense has been stellar all season but the job it did on Georgia’s only two offensive threats – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Gerald Robinson – was sensational to watch. The pair combined for just 13 points on 6-of-25 shooting, including 1-of-7 on the three-pointers. Caldwell-Pope was averaging 14.7 points per game coming in (16.6 in SEC play) and managed only four until a meaningless three-pointer in the closing minutes. Robinson, who was averaging 13.8 points, had an even tougher night, making just 3-of-14 shots and turning the ball over four times.

If you can board a plane home with a victory it’s been a good night in the Southeastern Conference, but Kentucky still needs to find the extra gear it is lacking if it wants to make a serious run at an NCAA title. The Cats were never in danger of losing this one but as John Calipari pointed out, this team is too gifted to merely but ‘good’, it has to strive to be ‘great’.

Kentucky (20-1, 6-0) remains on the road and travels to Baton Rouge on Saturday for a meeting with LSU. Tip is set for 4 p.m. on the SEC Network.

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