John Clay: Miller, Dodson could fill key roles in post-season

All the talk concerns all the duos.

There's the freshman duo of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. There's the guard duo of Wall and Eric Bledsoe. There's the inside duo of Cousins and Patrick Patterson. There's the inside freshman duo of Cousins and Daniel Orton. Kentucky basketball is awash in dynamic duos.

Yet there is this sneaky little feeling that when it comes to the Cats' post-season chances, a less-touted duo will end up playing a rather significant role.

Call it the double-D duo — Darius Miller and Darnell Dodson.

Call the sophomore duos X-factors as well, with Miller being the 6-foot-7 wing man from Mason County and Dodson the 6-7 streak shooter from Greenbelt, Md,, via Miami Dade Community College.

Sunday, when Kentucky held off fighting Florida 74-66, it was Miller who led the way with 14 points, making three of his five three-point attempts. Dodson reached double digits, as well, hitting all three of his shots, including a pair of triples, plus two free throws to score 10 points in 11 minutes.

"(Darius) and Darnell have really stepped up," said John Calipari on Tuesday. "It's nice when they pull up to shoot and you think the ball's going in versus 'please don't shoot an air ball.' "

Come NCAA Tournament time, you need those shots to go in the basket. And sometimes you need those made shots from unexpected sources.

Kentucky history backs that. In the 1996 national title game, freshman Ron Mercer scored 20 points off the bench in 24 minutes. In the '98 title run, Cameron Mills kept coming up big, hitting a huge three-pointer with 2:15 left in the comeback regional finals win over Duke, scoring eight points in 12 minutes in the NCAA finals victory over Utah.

In 1978, James Lee scored 13 points off the bench, including making all five of his free throws, in the national semifinal win over Eddie Sutton and Arkansas.

Or look at UK's first-round tournament victory that year, when the Cats overcame a 39-32 halftime deficit to beat Florida State 85-76. The Cats' leading scorer that day? Truman Claytor with 16 points.

Maybe the best example: In 1974-75, starting senior guard Mike Flynn averaged nine points per game. In UK's epic regional finals win over previously unbeaten Indiana, Flynn scored 22 points.

Miller or Dodson could be one of those stories. And it's not that their production Sunday was totally unexpected. It is to say it just hasn't always been there.

Dodson suffered through a seven-game stretch in which he made just two of 21 three-pointers. The last two games, however, Dodson has made five of eight threes, and scored 21 points in 32 minutes.

Miller, the 2008 Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, had strung together 11 straight games of single-figure scoring outputs, and temporarily lost his starting job along the way. He did not shoot the ball well at Georgia last week, but did do a good job guarding the Bulldogs' athletic Travis Leslie. Sunday in Rupp, Miller did shoot well from outside, and even grabbed a rebound and threw down a jam inside.

"I like the fact that he's trying to guard, he's trying to rebound," said Calipari when asked about Miller during the SEC teleconference on Monday. "How about he gets an offensive rebound and dunks it? ... I think having to sit him on the bench and make him earn his way back probably helped him."

But Tuesday, Calipari added this, "Some of it is on John (Wall) and Eric (Bledsoe). Because when they're making shots — and they don't have to make every shot, just one out of three; you can't go 0-for-6, you go 1-for-3, you make a couple in a row, that takes the heat off the rest of our team. ... Now those other guys can let it go, and know it's not on me."

"For the most part, everybody is focusing on them," Miller said Sunday. "That gives me a little more space to roam."

A little more space to come up big.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader