Darius Miller was 12 days old. The old man of this season's Kentucky basketball team had been breathing on Earth for less than two weeks when UNLV's running, gunning, swagger-filled band of hoopsters closed out the 1990 NCAA National Championship.
Darius Miller sparked the fast break for Kentucky on Saturday versus Ole Miss. (247Sports Photo by Jeff Drummond)
22 years later the Cats' elder statesman sat in the bowels of Rupp Arena answering questions about a team as old as he is. They were, as you imagine, nothing more than low-definition images on TV and computer screens to the senior guard.
“I've really just seen highlights and stuff like that, just on YouTube and stuff like that,” Miller said.
To Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, watching Miller and his Kentucky teammates run roughshod over the Southeastern Conference this season is like seeing ghosts. The former UAB star and honorable mention All-American laced up his high tops opposite those Runnin' Rebels and sees so many of the same characteristics in John Calipari's 2011-12 squad.
“Anything can happen on any given night but it's a totally different team as it relates to the youth and they're not nearly as bulky as the team I'm about to compare them to,” Kennedy said.
“But it reminds me of a team I played against way back when, the Vegas teams of the early 90s. The only thing that could get in there way was them or foul trouble.”
Even on a night when Kennedy's Rebels shot the second-highest percentage of anyone all year against Kentucky and one where the Cats' two most valuable players – Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – had first half foul trouble, the Cats rolled. For Kennedy, it was the same type of off-night demolition Jerry Tarkanian's team delivered in winning 45 consecutive games over the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons.
“It's the best Kentucky team we've played in my six years (at Ole Miss),” Kennedy said. “And that's saying something. Obviously, (Calipari) has taken this thing to an elite level.”
“Two years ago when we were in here, when you talk about John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, maybe the best outside guy and the best inside guy in college basketball during their time and they had some other very good pieces, I think this team (is better) because they defend.”
Of course, UNLV's story didn't end the way everyone predicted. The undefeated Runnin' Rebels were shocked by Duke in the 1991 national semifinals, a game where foul trouble plagued the nation's most talented team. Calipari is all too aware a similar fate could befell his squad.
“Or somebody making 15 threes on you, something like that could happen and you don't get another chance because it's one and done,” Calipari said.
But one the things that makes this particular UK team so dangerous is its cache of weapons. Even with what Kennedy termed a 'pedestrian' game by Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist's quiet night, Miller and Wiltjer combined for 27 points off the bench and Terrence Jones notched his first double-double of the season.
There are teams with an embarrassment of riches and then there is Kentucky, which thrives on the reality that it doesn't have to have one or two star players play flawlessly to win.
“We feel like we have a lot of weapons so when two people or one person is down other people try to step up,” Miller said. “We feel like if somebody isn't having their best game or if someone is in foul trouble we can pick them up. It takes a lot of pressure off you when you don't feel like you have to play perfect. You can play free.”
Consider Kennedy a believer.
“They don't have an awfully deep bench, but if they stay intact and stay focused they're as good as there is in college basketball that I've seen.”