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UK's best, biggest game of the year?

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miller_bm.JPGFive hundred career head coaching victories is worth storing away in the memory bank, but John Calipari's 500th collegiate victory, a 76-68 slugfest win over Florida, may be worth remembering for a few other reasons.

The Kentucky men's basketball team played arguably its best all-around game of the year - it was certainly its most exciting - in a marquee victory at Rupp Arena on Saturday in front of 24,346 fans. The win not only preserved the nation's second-longest winning streak at 33, it kept the Cats alive in the final push for the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division second seed.

"This was a huuuuge game," Calipari said, raising his voice to stress the importance of the victory. "This wasn't like some little game. This was a huge game."

Why so big?

- UK notched arguably its most significant win since beating Louisville on New Year's Eve (Florida entered the game with an RPI ranking of 12).
- The aforementioned second seed is still alive. The top two seeds in each division receive an all-important bye in the SEC Tournament.
- Darius Miller, who scored a career-high 24 points, is playing the best basketball of his career. When he scores double digits this season, UK is 10-4.
-  The Cats proved they can win without Terrence Jones scoring a ton. He had eight points and nine rebounds.
- Brandon Knight isn't playing like a freshman anymore. After scoring 16 points and dishing out six assists with zero turnovers, he's the clear-cut leader of the team.
- And the most important: "Because you're talking a great basketball team that's well coached, that's coming into our building with an idea that they are winning this game, and I've got a fragile team at times on the road, and now you wonder, are they going to be fragile at home," Calipari said.

Let's address the latter first.

With Big Blue Nation in a (rightfully so) panic over Kentucky's 0-6 record in games decided by six points or fewer and the Cats' 1-6 road mark in the SEC, UK did what it has done all season and flexed its muscles at home.

While questions will continue to linger over Kentucky's ability to win a game on the road - the Cats only have one more opportunity, a date at Tennessee next Sunday, to answer those - any second guessing over the actual talent and potential of the team should quiet for now. Road stumbles aside, this is a very good team.

And the glass-half-full approach going into the postseason is that UK really won't play any true road games in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

"We'll have so many people there, it will probably feel like we are at home," Calipari said.

The last time Miller was at home, he tied his career high with 22 points against South Carolina. This game was even better.

Offensively, Miller played with more confidence than he has in his entire career at UK. He took open shots when Florida gave it to him (2 of 4 from behind the arc), he beat defenders off the dribble and he looked for contact in the lane. Miller also finished with five rebounds, three assists and three blocks.

"I put the challenge to Darius," Calipari said. "I said, 'You're as good as anybody in this conference. Please, this is your game to show it.'  And he showed it."

Midway through the second half, with Kentucky leading 48-45 in a close game, Calipari looked like he called a couple of isolation plays for Miller. The junior scored three straight buckets for UK, two on close-range, one-on-one jumpers, to give UK a 54-49 lead.

From that point forward, the Cats started to pull away.

"He's just believing in himself," Knight said. "When he has that confidence, he can play with the best of them."

His best sequence of the game provided the dagger. After Doron Lamb missed a 3, Miller chased down a loose-ball rebound to keep the possession alive. When Miller got the rock back at the top of the key, he drilled a 3 to take a 69-58 lead. He turned around and trotted to the other end of the floor with a smile across his face.

"That's a big play because they could have came down and hit a 3 and it would have been a five-point game," said senior forward Josh Harrellson, who grabbed 12 rebounds. "That gave us life."

Miller showed some pride, too, in a bounce-back performance from his first outing against Florida. In the game in Gainesville, Fla., earlier in the month, Parsons posted a double-double, most of it against Miller, including several momentum-swimming offensive rebounds.

Parsons got his points (15) again, but this time around he recorded just one offensive rebound.

"I was definitely thinking about (the first Florida performance throughout the week)," Miller said. "I was thinking about how well I played personally at Florida. Coach Cal kind of challenged me to play better so I tried to come out and step up."

Kentucky has had some big wins this year (Washington, Notre Dame Louisville and Tennessee), but this one could have been the most important.

All things considered - losing four of the last seven games, the late-game misses, the confidence of the freshmen, the rigors of the road and the time of the year - this one was indeed "huuuge."

"I don't know if it's the biggest, but it was definitely a big game," Miller said. "They're a great team and we just came off a tough loss. It felt great to win this one."

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