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'Big brother' Miller stepping up in final tournament run

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Darius Miller has scored 19 points in back-to-back NCAA Tournament game. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Darius Miller has scored 19 points in back-to-back NCAA Tournament games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA -- Terrence Jones didn't even hesitate; he knew who his go-to guy was from the second he set foot on campus in the summer of 2010.

A stranger in a strange land, Jones was more than 2,000 miles away from his native Portland, Ore., when he arrived at Kentucky. To help ease his transition, he turned to Darius Miller, a junior who had grown up just 65 miles away in nearby Maysville, Ky.

"When I first got here my freshman year, he had a car, he was from Kentucky, that was my first dude I went to," Jones said. " 'What do I do here? Everybody's coming up to me knowing who I am. I don't know where to get food. I don't have a car.' "

Miller didn't let him down, and nearly two years later, he still hasn't.

"He took care of me," Jones said. "He showed me where to go and took care of me on the court. He had been through a tournament before and I really went to him for experience. He's my roommate now so we go through everything together and talk about everything. He's my big brother."

On a team featuring two sophomores, four freshmen and Miller, now a senior, in its seven-man rotation, "big brother" has become the most popular way to describe the guard who has a chance to set UK's all-time games played record should the Wildcats advance to the national championship game.

"He's been our leader from day one," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "Anytime we need anything, we can go to him. He showed us around when we first got to campus, told us when to be at open gym. He's like everybody's big brother. He's our senior leader."

It's a credit to both Miller and his teammates that he's thrived in that leadership role in spite of coming off the bench in all but 11 games this season. Even though the 6-foot-8 guard had started 71 games over his first three seasons, he didn't bat an eye when it became clear his role in his senior swansong would be as UK's sixth man.

"I didn't really have a problem with it," Miller said. "I knew we had a very talented team. I knew I was still going to have my opportunities to help the team out so I didn't have a problem with it and these other guys deserved to start. They're very talented and work extremely hard just the way that I do. I don't have a problem with coming off the bench at all."

Miller, who has been nearly universally praised by opposing coaches this season, has undertaken the challenge of playing on the second team almost every day in practice. He regularly takes on the Wildcat starters, all of whom are expected to play in the NBA.

"It's a lot of fun," Miller said. "I get to see what all these other teams see, especially trying to score against Anthony (Davis), (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and Terrence and people like that. It's a lot of fun. It's definitely made me better as a player going up against them every day."

That starting frontcourt has been responsible for 266 of UK's NCAA record 317 blocks, so if Miller can put the ball in the basket against them, why shouldn't he be able to do the same against anybody else?

"It makes him more aggressive and it gives him a challenge," Jones said. "He's scoring on us, which is real hard to do, when he's the only other guy on that team that plays a lot. He gets to go at us and try to score for them and he's done a good job."

Although Miller went on to win Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year honors, the season hasn't been without the occasional bump in the road. He's had four separate stretches of at least three games in which he failed to score double figures, most recently in UK's final game of the regular season and first two of the SEC Tournament. In those two games in New Orleans, Miller didn't even score a point. In his previous 69 games, Miller had been held scoreless just once.

Considering how crucial Miller had been to UK's Final Four run in 2010-11, his struggles were troubling.

To shake out of his slump, Miller relied on the help of Kidd-Gilchrist, the freshman he most often goes up against one-on-one in practice. Kidd-Gilchrist volunteered his starting spot for the SEC final vs. Vanderbilt, and Miller responded with 16 points.

"That meant a lot to me, just to see the support that he had for me and the support Coach Cal had for me in making the decision to start me," Miller said.

Since then, Miller has looked a different player, averaging 15 points over four games, including 19 in wins over Iowa State and Indiana to carry UK to a third Elite Eight in as many seasons.

"When you look at him, you say he's as good as anybody we have: performance, what he's doing, the numbers," Calipari said. "And he is, the way he's playing."

Indiana head coach Tom Crean agreed without hesitation. The best way he could think to prove how talented of a team Kentucky is in the wake of the Hoosiers' 102-90 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats was to cite the player who doesn't start.

"They're a really good team," Crean said "They've got a lot of guys. They've got a guy coming off the bench that's going to be a first-round draft pick in Darius Miller."

Miller was vital to the UK effort in advancing to the Elite Eight, but he could be even more important as the Wildcats look to take the next step against No. 3 seed Baylor on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. Coach Cal guessed the Bears would play a significant amount of zone in the South Regional final, which means it could be Miller time once more.

With his outside shooting and ability to find seams, Miller has arguably been the Cats' most effective weapon in attacking zone defenses.

"He knows how to get open with getting places where he can knock down shots," Teague said. "He shoots it so well from outside that they got to watch him and (that opens) up the middle for Michael to get in the middle and make plays in the lane. If they don't guard him, he's going to hit the shot every single time. He'll put them on his hip and shoot a one-dribble pull-up and knock that in. He just opens the zone up for us."

Miller stopped short of saying he will bring a different mentality to the game knowing UK will see a significant amount of zone. He's going to wait and look for his spots. If he sees them, he'll pounce.

"It's just a heat of the moment thing, just trying to get into gaps and things like that," Miller said. "It really helps when you have shooters like Doron (Lamb), you have Kyle (Wiltjer) and everybody who's knocking down shots because that opens up the zone. It's really just a heat of the moment thing."

Over the past two seasons, the "heat of the moment" in postseason play has called on Miller to step up more often than not. With his last chance at cutting down the nets in the offing, he's ready.

"This is my last go-round," Miller said. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to keep the team alive."

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omg i love miller he is so amazing

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