UNC to test Cats' road readiness

Lamb: 'I think we'll handle it'

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 3, 2010 

Doron Lamb used hyperbolic language to describe Kentucky's game at North Carolina on Saturday.

"It's probably the biggest game of my life," he told reporters Thursday.

Despite such magnitude, Lamb dismissed the notion that he and the other Kiddie Cats might be thrown off stride in this nationally televised game featuring two of college basketball's three winningest programs.

"I think we'll handle it well," Lamb said.

Teammate Darius Miller agreed.

"I think they'll handle it pretty well," he said. "They've seemed to handle everything else pretty well."

Whatever trouble arises, Lamb noted that Kentucky has "experienced players" who can show the way. But assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for head coach John Calipari at a brief question-and-response session with reporters, said that list begins and ends with Miller.

"Darius is the only one who's been a starter on the road in a game like this in front of a crowd like this," Robic said.

True enough. Neither DeAndre Liggins nor Jon Hood has started a game played on an opponent's court. Josh Harrellson started at Vanderbilt and Arkansas two seasons ago, making one of six shots and committing more fouls (four) than combined rebounds (one) and points (two).

By contrast, Miller started seven games on the opponent's court last season. In those games, he made 29.6 percent of his shots (13 of 44), hit five of 24 three-point attempts (20.8 percent) and averaged 4.7 points. More molehill than mountainous, but Everest-like experience compared to any of his teammates.

While agreeing that his experience connotes leadership, Miller said the freshman-oriented Cats have shown steadiness in difficult circumstances.

"We've been playing great teams already," he said, mentioning Washington and Connecticut in last week's EA Sports Maui Invitational. "I'm sure they'll know what to expect."

Miller described his role as showing "great leadership" plus playing aggressively.

The latter has been a topic of conversation since Miller arrived from Mason County newly minted as Kentucky's Mr. Basketball. He brought the reputation as a quality young man who — alas — was gentlemanly on the court as well as off.

That he took only three shots against Boston University on Tuesday made aggressiveness a question again.

Miller and Robic noted that foul trouble played a part in the Boston U. game. Miller picked up his second foul and went to the bench with 11:54 left in the first half. He finished the game having logged a season-low 19 minutes.

Miller acknowledged the frustration that comes with foul trouble.

"Definitely, definitely," he said. "It seems I've been in foul trouble a lot. Coach (Calipari) has talked to us about it, especially me."

Miller hasn't fouled out of a game, but he's committed four fouls in four of the past five games. Even on a freshman-dominated team, he's the runaway leader in fouls with 21.

"I'm going to have to make way smarter decisions," he said, "so I can help my team by staying on the court."

With UK losing five players off last season's team to the NBA Draft, Miller anticipated having to increase his production. He's delivered. His averages for points (9.8) and rebounds (5.0) are much better than his career averages of 5.9 and 2.8, respectively. He's also on pace to exceed previous highs in assists, blocks and steals.

"He's improving every day," Robic said of Miller. "Our team has since we got back from Maui."

But to expect Miller or another of Kentucky's few veterans to lead the way at North Carolina might be unrealistic. After all, UK's three double-digit scoring averages belong to freshmen: Terrence Jones (20.7), Brandon Knight (17.3) and Lamb (11.5).

"These kids understand," Robic said of the freshmen venturing into hostile territory. "I don't know what (a veteran) could do besides getting them together and saying, 'Let's all stay together.' "

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