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From the Pressbox: NCAA Tournament notes with Tom Leach

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Thursday's win over Princeton marked the sixth straight game in which Kentucky won despite not having a 20-point scorer. Until this stretch, the longest the Wildcats had gone with a player getting 20 or more was two games, so that speaks to how the three veterans on this team have stepped up their play down the stretch.

"When our veterans, who are inexperienced, play that way, it' s a lot easier for the freshmen to do what they do," head coach John Calipari said. "Hard for freshmen to carry a team."

Leading the charge has been junior swingman Darius Miller, who is averaging almost 15 points per game over a 10-game run in which he has scored in double figures each time.  Calipari said hard work is paying off.

"He's been working out with (assistant coach) Kenny Payne for 30-40 minutes before practice to lose some weight and do some skill work," Calipari said. "He's  building his own self-esteem and he's really doing well. If you look at big-time shots in the last nine or 10 games, he's made half of them. And that goes from the Mississippi game when he wouldn't shoot a wide open 3."

Former UK All-American Jack Givens has taken notice, too.

"He seems to like the spotlight, he seems to like leading the team in scoring," Givens said on the "The Leach Report" radio show last week. "Early on in his career and even earlier this year, it looked like he shied away from those opportunities. I really like that he wants to be the guy now. I'd love to have that body of his, 6-8 and being able to do the things he can do. But the guy I'm most proud of is Josh (Harrellson) for doing the little things. He understands what his role is as well as anybody on the team."

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With Miller going for 17 in the win over Princeton, Kentucky improved to 13-1 in Miller's career when he scores at least 15 points in a game.

Kentucky is also 15-0 when holding the opposition under 30 points in the first half, so a fast start on the defensive end might be a big help Saturday.

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"If you really want to compete on a national level, you have to be tougher. It's all stuff that we've talked about, but at the end of the day, they've got to go out and play with that kind of aggressiveness."

That's the message coach Cal has been preaching to his young team down the stretch run of  this season, and he's noticed a difference in both the physical and mental toughness.

"We've had guys coming that had not been focused on practice and now they're really focused, really ready to go, so we can practice an hour and 15 minutes (and be productive)," he said. "This time of year, we practice an hour -- but we go hard."

And Calipari said this team is one of his best when it comes to executing the offense in the half court.

"In the last six years, this and the 2008 (Memphis) team are probably the two most efficient offensive teams that I've coached," Calipari said.

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The Big Blue Nation turnout in Tampa, Fla., was strong but well short of the estimated 15,000-plus Cat fans who descended on Atlanta for last week's SEC Tournament.

"I was kind of blown away," Calipari said of the sea of blue he saw for the Cats' first game last Thursday. "I said to my staff, 'Are there are other blue teams here?'  It's a neat thing and I'm just happy for them. People that can't get in Rupp Arena plan for this. "

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