March 12, 2012

Miller's move to starting lineup sparks scoring

NEW ORLEANS -- Darius Miller was headed to the court at New Orleans Arena when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gave him the news.

Kidd-Gilchrist was taking himself out of the starting lineup for the senior. Miller would start his final Southeastern Conference Tournament game.

Miller, the 2011 SEC Tournament MVP, hadn't scored in Kentucky's games on Friday and Saturday. It was the first time since his sophomore year he'd gone back-to-back games without scoring.

"The fact that he did that meant a lot to me," Miller said. "The fact that coach had enough confidence to start me after he said that meant a lot to me, too. It showed me that my team and my coaching staff still supported me after a rough time."

Miller led Kentucky with 16 points in the Wildcats' 71-64 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament Championship. After going 0-5 from the field in a total of 30 minutes in the tournament's first two games, he went 7-17 in 35 minutes on Sunday.

"He told us he was going to step it up," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "Right after (Saturday's) game, he said he was going to step it up. That's what he did. He played his butt off."

It wasn't the first time Kidd-Gilchrist had tried to give Miller his spot. He spoke with Kentucky head coach John Calipari before the season and volunteered to come off the bench.

But the coach took the decision out of Kidd-Gilchrist's hands. Miller opened the season as a starter before Calipari opted to replace him with the freshman. When Kidd-Gilchrist spoke to Calipari again after Saturday's 74-71 win over Florida, he relented.

"That's the kind of young man (Kidd-Gilchrist) is," Calipari said. "He's special … He's just got that caring kind of heart, the kind of guy that makes a great teammate."

He had never received a gesture from a teammate like Kidd-Gilchrist's decision to pull himself from the lineup.

"That was one of the key reasons I feel like I played better today," Miller said. "He showed confidence in me and coach, too. It really meant a lot to me."

Miller made Kentucky's only field goals in the final 10 minutes of the half. He hit a three-pointer from the elbow to give UK a 57-51 lead with 9:47 to go. He swooped in for an offensive rebound and finished with a one-handed dunk with 8:04 remaining in the game. Kentucky wouldn't make another shot from there. The Commodores went on a 20-4 run to close the game that began after Miller's three.

While Miller rebounded thanks to his move to the starting lineup, Kidd-Gilchrist struggled. He fouled out with 2:51 to go, finishing with five points, no rebounds and no assists in 16 minutes.

"We had good looks, we felt like," Miller said. "We just didn't knock them down."

He hoped things will be different in the NCAA tournament. After bouncing back on Sunday, Miller said he'd have confidence for the postseason.

Miller said after the game he would have gladly gone without scoring again in exchange for a win. He said he was as upset as he was the day before, but for a very different reason.

"It didn't really mean too much to me about how many points I had or anything," Miller said.

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