Notes: Miller may have found his shot

If you ask Darius Miller, the dip in his 3-point shooting numbers this year is a technical problem.

“I was kind of holding it at the top of releasing it on the way up,” Miller said Tuesday after Kentucky’s win over Samford. “I was kind of rushing shots, too, just hurrying up to shoot instead of taking my time to shoot the shot.”

If you ask John Calipari, he’ll tell you it starts with Miller’s aggressive mentality.

“As he starts playing more and more aggressively, rebounding, defending, bumping, grinding, he will make more 3s,” Coach Cal said. “He will be more of an aggressive 3-point shooter.”

As Calipari explains it, when you’re getting beat on defense, “when you go to shoot the ball, you’re like a deer in headlights.”

“So when you’re out there stopping somebody, you dive on the floor for the ball, you rebound one above the rim, they throw you the ball, you nail the 3,” Calipari said.

Whatever the case may be, Miller may be finding his groove. Miller nailed three of his six 3-point shots Tuesday night in the 82-50 win over the Bulldogs. Starting in the place of the injured Terrence Jones, Miller was assertive early and finished with 17 points.

Entering the game with a 24.2 percent clip from 3-point range, Miller said it felt good to see his shots finally fall through the hoop.

“I’ve got to keep it going,” Miller said. “I’ve got to continue to knock down shots, especially when my teammates do a great job of finding me open.”

After turning into one of the nation’s most reliable 3-point shooters last year when he hit 44.3 percent from the beyond the arc, Miller didn’t hold back Monday when he called his shooting numbers this season “terrible.”

“It’s not going to continue to be that way,” Miller said confidently after the Samford game. “When I get that going, I feel like it’s another dimension for us, another threat for us. It really helps out myself getting to the lane and other things like that.”

Vargas making most of opportunities

Senior forward Eloy Vargas grabbed seven rebounds in the win over Samford. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

Coach Cal has posed a question to senior forward Eloy Vargas: Can you wait for your opportunity? Can you be patient enough to bide your time? Will you make the most of it when that opportunity comes?

In 17 minutes of action against Samford, Vargas did. Without Jones in the lineup, Vargas collected seven rebounds, one short of his career high, and scored two points.

“I like what he did today,” Calipari said. “He kept a lot of balls free. … We even went at him offensively and he scored the ball. He’s getting better.

Vargas, when he’s gotten in the games, has shown a much-improved skill set and physicality than what he did last season in his first year at UK. A junior-college transfer out of Miami-Dade Community College, it took Vargas most of last season to readjust to Division I basketball (he played his freshman season at Florida) and understand what Calipari wanted out of him.

Calipari has been pretty pleased with Vargas’ development this year and has played him 38 minutes over the last three contests.

“Eloy Vargas is going to have his opportunities,” Calipari said. “Can he stay focused so when they come he’s ready to go and he’s ready to prove that he should be playing more?”

Calipari referred to a former player of his at Massachusetts who he did not play all year until the Final Four game against Kentucky. Calipari inserted him into the game, he played well and earned a contract to play in South America for the one-time performance.

Vargas can do the same, Calipari believes, only with more opportunities.

“What Eloy’s doing is he’s biding his time and he’s waiting,” Calipari said. “I just want him to do well. By the end of the year, he’s one of those guys when we go to him, he physically can play.”

Malone still part of the team

Barring a miraculous recovery, freshman walk-on Sam Malone won’t play another minute this season for Kentucky after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It’s his fourth knee injury in his playing career.

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After the Samford game, Calipari expanded upon a statement he released Tuesday on Malone’s injury.

“I feel bad for the kid, but like I told him last night, life throws you curves, man,” Calipari said. “Fate intervenes in our lives sometimes and you have to deal with it and use it as a positive.”

Malone made the most of his first year as a walk-on at UK, scoring six points in 13 minutes. He became a fan favorite for his late-game scores.

“I said, ‘You’ve come here and established who you are in a short period of time and you’re still going to be part of our team and part of our family. You’re in one of the best programs, if not the best in the country, and you’re a part of that team,’ ” Calipari told Malone. “So, he did well.”