UK-Vanderbilt notes: Calipari’s gamble with Miller pays off

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The look on Darius Miller’s face was one of utter disbelief.

The senior’s right arm was no doubt locked with Brad Tinsley’s left arm, but the Vanderbilt point guard sold the loose-ball foul more than Miller deserved it. Picking up his fourth foul barely two minutes into the second half just seemed so wrong, so cheap that Miller stared back at the officials with his mouth wide open.

For all Miller knew, his evening was pretty much over. His last game in Memorial Gymnasium was going to result in a disappointing, scoreless farewell.

Who knew he’d end up with arguably five of the game’s biggest points?

Barely three minutes since leaving the action with his fourth personal foul, John Calipari decided to roll the dice with Miller and inserted him back into game with 14:54 remaining. The appearance didn’t last long, as Coach Cal subbed for him 41 seconds later, but with 10:54 left and Vanderbilt roaring back, Miller got back into the game and played nearly the rest of the night.

Miller was at the scoring end of the game’s signature play when Marquis Teague tripped in the lane and found him with a bounce pass with just over a minute to go, but Coach Cal said his 3-pointer with 10:40 left – UK’s first trey of the game – was what got the Cats “going.”

“What I told the guys is it doesn’t matter how you play the whole game,” Calipari said. “It’s those last three or four minutes. Darius had not played well and then came to that point and he was outstanding. That’s why I left him in the game. I wasn’t going to take him out.”

Miller, despite the foul trouble, ended up playing 11 big minutes in the second half and finished with five points. His leadership and his presence late in clutch situations outweighed his modest stat line.

“He’s been doing this for four years,” Teague said. “He knows this game and makes big plays for us. That’s what we need from him. He’s our senior leader.”

Davis holds own

With seven more blocks Saturday, Anthony Davis has 127 on the season, far and away the most in a single season at UK. (photo by Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)

In Kentucky’s victory last year in Lexington, the Wildcats elected to guard Vanderbilt big man Festus Ezeli one on one with Josh Harrellson to take away the Commodores’ ability to shoot the 3. Ezeli obliged by putting up 22 points and 13 rebounds.

Surely against the leading candidate to win the National Defensive Player of the Year honors — the program’s single-season blocks leader — UK would employ the same strategy and let Davis do what he does to everyone: block shots. Right?

Not quite.

Because of Ezeli’s thick, 255-pound frame, Kentucky decided to “dig” down on him and give Davis help in the post.

“We started the game trapping and then we were just going to really come down on him because we knew Anthony, if the kid got two dribbles he was going to score the ball,” Calipari said. “We were just going to try to help him. It’s dangerous against them because what are you giving up if you really come off him? You’re giving up 3s, so we worked on all week, two days anyways, on scrambling in that situation and rotating players around. I thought we did pretty good with it.”

Ezeli actually neutralized Davis’ shot-blocking ability at times. By lowering his shoulder into Davis’ much skinnier frame, Ezeli knocked him off balance on his way to 13 points.

“It was a great challenge for me,” Davis said. “He’s a strong player and great in the post. Really can make post moves. He’s really strong and physical so it really gave me a challenge to see how physical I am and how much stronger I need to get.”

And yet, by the end of the game, Davis still ended up with seven blocks to increase his season total to 127, better than all but 23 teams in the country.

Calipari measured his performance by his importance on the floor.

“Anthony, I think, played 39 minutes,” Coach Cal said. “I didn’t take him off the floor.”

Calipari to mix it up during bye week

At last, after 11 straight games in the conference without a break, Kentucky will finally get its much-needed midweek bye. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to rest for the Cats.

Instead of giving the players a couple of days off, Calipari said his team will have a “different week” to avoid repeating the Wildcats’ lone loss of the season.

“The last time we had a week off what happened? We played Indiana,” Calipari said. “I don’t want to take away (from Indiana). Indiana did their thing and played well, but it wasn’t one of our better outings.”

Kentucky actually had the next week off after Indiana as well, but that was because of finals week.

As it stood Saturday night, Calipari planned to do UK’s usual tape work on Sunday, practice Monday, take off Tuesday, scrimmage Wednesday, and practice Thursday and Friday before the home game against Ole Miss.

“It’s so late in the season that they don’t need two days off now,” Calipari said. “We’re not practicing but an hour and a half right now anyway, so it’s not like we’re giving them three-hour practices. I don’t do that this time of the year.”

If the Cats follow through with a scrimmage on Wednesday, Calipari said he may do something special for the fans and let students come watch at Memorial Coliseum or stream it on the Internet, similar to the open practice UK streamed after Christmas.