LOUISVILLE - Darius Miller knows it's crunch time.
The Kentucky senior guard pounded his chest after connecting on a 3-pointer that proved be a momentum-changer in the second half of an 87-71 victory over Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night at the KFC Yum! Center.
“We all came out with a lot of intensity,” Miller said. “(We) were really focused on what we needed to do. We all know this is the last time this team is going to be together. We're not quite ready for that yet.”
The trey by Miller was part of a 14-0 scoring blitz by the Wildcats that propelled his squad to the blowout win over the Cyclones. Miller finished with 19 points and had eight of those during the decisive spurt that sent the Wildcats (34-2) into the Sweet 16 for the third straight season and a rematch with Indiana, the only team that defeated Kentucky during the regular season 73-72 on Dec. 10 in Bloomington, Ind.
Miller was emotional during the second half against the Cyclones, nodding his head and clapped his hands after popping a three-pointer with 10 minutes remaining. He wasn’t ready to hang up his sneakers for the final time in his collegiate career.
“We all were emotional,” Miller said. “We showed a lot of emotion, played with a lot of intensity and had a lot of fun with it all. It's coming to an end and hopefully we can continue and go get a championship.”
Miller made three of Kentucky's 10 shots from long range, many of which came at critical times during the contest.
“He was hyped,” said Kentucky guard Marquis Teague. “He knocked down big shots when we needed them. He was on fire tonight. We were all into the game and nobody wanted to lose. We knew this was a good team, so we had to come out fired up.”
After scoring just six points in an 81-66 victory over Western Kentucky Thursday, Miller eclipsed that total in the first half against the Cyclones. Miller came off the bench and scored seven points and had five of those during a brief 10-0 run by the Wildcats, turning a 13-11 advantage into a 23-11 lead.
The Kentucky senior connected on a pair of 3-pointers during the spurt, but one was waved off and changed to a deuce following a review by the officials. The Kentucky senior added a pair of assists and a block during the opening half.
In the second half, Miller was just as effective. He scored 12 points and provided much-needed leadership for the rest of his teammates against an Iowa State team that provided a physical test for the Wildcats going into Friday night's rematch against the Hoosiers.
“We know basketball is a game of runs and they're a good team,” he said. “They did a great job of coming back, but we had a run, too.”
Now that the team's attention has shifted from Iowa State to Indiana, Miller is taking a low-key approach to the contest and isn't getting into the hype surrounding the rematch.
“I'm just as excited (about the game) as I was today,” he said. “It's our next game and we can't take it as a revenge game or anything like that. We've got to take it like it's our last game, because if we lose, that's it. They beat us before, so we know they're capable of beating us and we've got to come out ready to go. We're a totally different team and I know they are too and we've got to come out ready to play.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Miller is looking forward to a return to the Georgia Dome, where he was named the Most Valuable Player in last year's Southeastern Conference Tournament. This time, the stakes will be higher for the Cats.