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January 24, 2012

Miller paces Cats to easy road win

ATHENS, Ga. - Shots weren't falling for Terrence Jones. The iron was unkind to Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague. Those highlight-reel dunks weren't available for Anthony Davis.

In another Southeastern Conference road venue in front of another pumped-up crowd, that foursome didn't give No. 1 Kentucky big point production.

And that was no big deal.

Darius Miller poured in 19 points, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 14, and the Wildcats handled Georgia 57-44 at Stegeman Coliseum.

"Anybody can score as many points as they want in any game," Davis said. "That's the type of team that we have. And we just play defense. I think it was four of us that combined for 18 points, but Mike and Darius really stepped it up."

These Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) still have their flaws, still go long stretches in which they struggle to score. But the Cats' balancing act can mask some of their issues.

"They can beat you in so many ways," Georgia guard Dustin Ware said.

Tuesday was a pick-your-poison special.

The Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) tried to blanket Davis, and they held him to four points on 1-for-2 shooting. But he grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots.

They harassed Jones into 2-for-5 shooting and limited Teague and Lamb into a combined 3-for-15. But Miller drilled all four of his three-point attempts and 7 of 8 shots overall to match a season high with 19 points.

Kidd-Gilchrist was 6-of-14 from the floor, but he had 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and a block.

You cut off one option, Kentucky can find another.

"That's real dangerous for the other team," Kidd-Gilchrsit said. "Oh, man."

Five UK players took at least five shots in Tuesday's game. Only Kidd-Gilchrist had double-digit attempts. By contrast, three Georgia players took at least 11 shots. None made more than five.

"In most cases, you have teams that their three leading scorers take 250 to 300 shots and the other guys are taking 50 shots, 70 shots," UK coach John Calipari said. "We have seven guys that take 100 shots. That means that we have an unselfish team that'll pass to each other."

It also means that a few substandard nights don't submarine Kentucky's chances at winning. It's a stark contrast to last season, when off games from Jones and Brandon Knight were likely harbingers of a long night.

"No. No," Calipari said when asked if last year's team could win with so many struggling scorers. "But last year's team wasn't as deep as this year's team. This year's team isn't that deep but they're deep enough. This team is a little more athletic than last year's team."

And at times, it's a dominant defensive team. The Wildcats managed only 19 points in the second half against Georgia, shooting 30.4 percent from the floor. But UK held the Bulldogs to 18 second-half points on 32 percent shooting to extend a 12-point halftime lead.

Davis' five blocks were half of Kentucky's total, and UK's inside presence and perimeter pressure helped hold the Dawgs to 19-of-55 shooting overall, including 5-of-18 three-point shooting.

"The length (and) their size just overpowers you," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "When your two guard is as big as Miller is, and then you have Kidd-Gilchrist at the (small forward) and those guys are the size of power forwards, they can just overpower you."

That, too, is an improvement from a season ago.

But Calipari's more-balanced team also gets fewer passes from its coach. Last year's team got a free pass for winning. Calipari's been less forgiving with this group. After Tuesday's win, he harped on his team's inability to finish strong - continuing a season-long trend of finding dark clouds in silver linings.

"We have a nice will to win, and we make plays down the stretch and free throws and plays, and I expect that," Calipari said. "But what I don't want to get into is the habit of, the game's close. It shouldn't be close. Let's go. And that's what I'm trying to (teach). When you have a chance to step on a team, you got to do it, and we're still not quite there yet."

But they're getting there. And Calipari likes where the road could lead.

Still, as much as he appreciates the balanced scoring and the defensive intensity, he's not letting up on his team. UK "could be really special, and we're not right now," Calipari said.

"I told them, 'I'm not changing. I'm happy we won. I'm happy with how guys played, but I want you even better,'" Calipari said. "And that's how I'm coaching them right now."


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