UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The fact that senior Darius Miller is no longer in the Kentucky starting lineup appears to bother others more than it bothers Darius Miller.
Post-game question Sunday: Does it bother you to not start?
A second or two or three of a slightly uncomfortable pause.
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Question: So you don't use it as any kind of motivation?
Miller: "I still played 28 minutes today. I'm not really worried about it."
Question: Did Coach talk to you about why you're not starting?
Miller: "The other guys were playing better than me. He didn't really have to say. They were playing better."
Yet no one produced more Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena than the senior from Maysville, last year's Southeastern Conference Tournament MVP, a starter on a Final Four team, no less, who came off the bench to score 13 points, dish five assists and deliver the steady hand a frazzled Kentucky needed to beat a determined Old Dominion 62-52.
"The reason we go out alive is because Darius played," said head coach John Calipari. "If Darius doesn't play, then we probably get beat 10 or 12, easy."
Indeed, after failing to score in Saturday's blowout win over Penn State, the 6-foot-8 forward scored nine points in the first half, including seven of the final nine, as the Cats turned a 25-20 deficit into a 32-27 lead at intermission.
"First half, he kept us in the game," Calipari said. "He was the only one who said, 'Give me the ball, and I'll get into the middle of their defense.' "
That would be Old Dominion's zone defense, a disciplined scheme that gave the Kentucky offense fits. In fact, the combination of ODU's physicality and Kentucky's inexperience forced the Cats into a season-high 21 turnovers.
UK might be the second-ranked team in the country but, on this journey to New York and then Connecticut, the Cats traveled a long way to learn an important lesson.
"We're a good team," Calipari said. "But we've got a long way to go."
Miller knows a thing or two about longevity. But when most would think he would be a secure senior starter, Miller found himself starting the last three games on the bench behind three freshmen.
Judging by email, Twitter and the talk shows, this development rubbed a few in Big Blue Nation the wrong way.
And Miller did play better against Kansas on Tuesday than his stat line (five points, four rebounds) suggested. But, on Saturday, he failed to mark in the scoring column for the first time since the 2010 SEC Tournament.
Sunday, however, he was the right man at the right time. Miller scored with 10:58 left in the first half to stop a 7-0 ODU run that had given the Monarchs an 18-11 lead. Later, he put together an old-fashioned three-point play to put UK up 30-27. Then with 26 seconds left, he made a pair of free throws to give the Cats a five-point lead.
"He not only passed it, he scored," said Calipari. "He's a veteran. He understands. He's been through this."
"I've been in these types of games before," Miller said afterward. "We've played in physical games before, and I just know what to expect, I guess, as far as how intensity is going to be as we go on through the season."
Without a sizable presence in the post, and with freshman Marquis Teague finding his way at the point, the Cats are going to have trouble with physical teams.
"We've struggled early on every year that Coach Cal has been here, so it's nothing different," Miller said. "We're still trying to figure out everything, how we're going to play, how we're going to get used to stuff.
"Like I said, it's early on into the season. We're just figuring everything out."
On this day, however, on a team with three freshman starters, the Cats needed their senior sub.