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What will Miller do for an encore?

Views on the Big Blue:

■ Kentucky's visit to South Carolina on Wednesday night is the most important game of the UK season.

Not only because the contest could go a long way in determining who wins the SEC East. Not just because a road victory would be so vital to shoring up UK's shaky NCAA Tournament resume.

And not just, as Billy Gillispie would suggest, because it is Kentucky's next game.

The reason is Darius Miller.

After a season battling self-confidence issues, the 6-foot-7 freshman at last had the long-awaited breakout game (17 points, 6-of-6 shooting, six assists) against Tennessee last Saturday.

Should Miller come back with another strong effort in Columbia, it could signal a genuine late-season emergence for the former Mason County star.

If so, think of what a third high-level player would mean for Kentucky (starting with becoming a more difficult team to guard).

Conversely, should Miller's play fall back at Carolina, you wonder if the confidence issues come to the fore again.

■ With four games left in the regular season, here is a suggestion for UK fans: Relish the presence of Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson.

I have no insight on whether one or both of the Kentucky stars plan to turn pro after this season, but obviously that possibility exists.

(My hunch is that whatever the roommates do, they will do as a pair.)

If they depart, you wonder how long it will be before UK has two star-caliber players who also seem to be such genuinely nice kids.

■ This qualifies as H2O under the Golden Gate, but what would the state of UK basketball look like if, when he first got the Wildcats coaching job, Billy Gillispie had decided to put a full-court press on in-state high school stars Scotty Hopson and Shelvin Mack as well as Darius Miller?

Could Billy G. have sold that talented trio on coming to Lexington together to be the building blocks of returning Kentucky basketball to greatness?

Miller and Hopson (now at Tennessee) would have given UK a dynamic duo of wing talents. Based on his play at Butler, Mack would have gone a long way toward solving Kentucky's point guard issues.

■ In the first Kentucky-Tennessee matchup this season, Miller outscored Hopson 7-5. In the second meeting last Saturday, the ex-Mason County star got the better of the former UHA standout 17-14.

"We have sort of a friendly rivalry," Miller said. "But there's nothing (hostile) between us."

■ Former Tennessee star Chris Lofton was in Rupp Arena for Saturday's UT-UK showdown.

Darius Miller says the two Kentucky Mr. Basketballs (Lofton 2004; Miller 2008) from Mason County have talked occasionally this season even when Lofton has been in Turkey playing pro basketball.

"His phone number stayed the same, so I could call him," Miller said of Lofton.

The advice coming from Lofton?

"He's just told me to relax and trust my game," Miller says.

■ Of his two monster jams in the second half against Tennessee, Patrick Patterson said his fave came off that nifty pass from DeAndre Liggins with 1:14 left.

For my money, however, the better dunk was the facial (at 6:24) Patterson performed on UT's Wayne Chism.

"He didn't say anything," Patterson said of Chism's reaction. "And I didn't say anything, either."

■ Speaking of Meeks and Patterson, Kennedy Bookstore near the UK campus is coming out with Rhythm & Bruise T-shirts, picking up on the winning nickname submitted by Nicholasville banker David Vanderpool to our contest seeking to name the high-scoring pair.

According to Carol Behr, the store's general manager, the back of the shirts will have Making String Music in the Bluegrass.

■ Much has been mentioned of late about Billy Gillispie's public relations skills (or lack thereof), so I thought I'd pass this along.

During last Thursday night's Kentucky-Tennessee women's basketball game, Gillispie was standing on the balcony overlooking the Memorial Coliseum floor trying to watch the game.

Instead, Billy G. spent a good bit of his night engulfed by autograph seekers. The UK coach patiently signed and posed for pictures with Cats (and UT) fans.

■ Also saw Kentucky football standout, and Tennessee product, Randall Cobb in the crowd at the UK-UT women's game.

Wonder if last week's Wildcats sweep of Tennessee in men's and women's basketball planted the motivational seeds with the Cats' football team to finnnallllly end UT's embarrassing 24-year winning streak over Kentuc ...

Crazy thought. Crazy.

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