NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Darius Miller gets plenty of grief about being an old man as the only senior who plays significant minutes for Kentucky. He to became the most experienced Wildcat ever, too.

When Miller played in the national championship game Monday night against Kansas, it was his 152nd appearance for Kentucky, breaking the school mark set by Wayne Turner in 1999.

“It’s been a lot of fun playing with all these guys,” Miller said. “We’ve had great teammates, great players. Just being able to play with them, good players, great players, I’ve had a lot of fun with that. I’ve learned a lot from those guys. I still talk to them this day.”

Miller has played with some 40 teammates in his college career that started under coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie was fired after Miller’s freshman year and Miller has been part of runs to the regional finals, the Final Four and now the title game.

“It’s very emotional. We’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point. I feel like we’ve all did a great job throughout the whole year.  This is what we’ve been reaching for,” he said. “At the end of this game we have a chance to win a national championship. It’s an opportunity that not most people get. Can’t really explain it in words. You have to experience it.

“For me to be able to experience it with these guys who I’ve grown to be brothers with, it means a lot to me. Especially, in my freshman year, I was in the NIT. It was terrible.”

Miller — along with five other teammates on this squad — will join Turner, Anthony Epps, Jamaal Magloire and Ron Mercer in 1996-97 for most games played in a season at 40.

Miller’s teammates are impressed with his longevity.

“That’s crazy. We were all shocked when we heard that,” sophomore teammate Terrence Jones said. “He’s a great player, and we really need him on this team. We wouldn’t be this far without him. He just gets the job done for us in so many ways.”

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FREE FOR ALL: Kentucky guard Doron Lamb says he’ll make sure to breathe deep and follow through.

The rest of Big Blue Nation will exhale if the Wildcats can hit free throws against Kansas.

The inability to make the unguarded 15-footers was a key reason John Calipari’s Memphis team fell to the Jayhawks in the 2008 title game. The Tigers went 12 of 19 from the stripe, including missing four of their final five in regulation with a chance to seal a victory.

Kentucky has made a Southeastern Conference-best 72.3 percent of its attempts this season, giving Calipari confidence.

“I have no issues with that whatsoever,” Calipari said. “We’ll be fine.”

The Wildcats hit 35 of 37 attempts in a 102-90 victory in the regional semifinals against Indiana. Since then, they’ve followed it up by making 30 of 44 against Baylor and 11 of 20 against Louisville for a combined average of 64 percent over the last two games.

“I hate leaving points at the line, especially since it’s wide open, no one moving,” Kentucky forward Terrence Jones said. “We’re usually pretty good down the stretch, especially in close games, when it comes down to it late in the game, knocking down free throws.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that, but if we do, I trust my team. We’ve got a lot of great free throw shooters.”

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DUELING DATES: The NCAA and NBA differ on when a player must decide whether he’s returning to school or going to the pro ranks.

Last April, the NCAA Division I Legislative Council adopted a proposal that requires student-athletes who declare they’re interested in the NBA draft to remove their name from pro consideration before the first day of the spring National Letter of Intent signing period that begins April 11, nearly a month earlier than the previous deadline.

The new deadline gives players just four days to review recommendations from the NBA’s undergraduate advisory committee, a group of NBA team executives who offer a private projection of the player’s draft status.

NBA teams can’t workout underclassmen until they are notified by the league about who is eligible for the draft after the NBA’s April 29 deadline for early entry eligibility.

The new dates mean players may be able to say they’re returning to school to satisfy the NCAA requirement, only to later declare their eligibility and leave before the NBA’s deadline. Kentucky coach John Calipari said recently he’s not a fan of the dueling dates and that he’s only interested in the NBA one.

“We’re not going to worry about the (NCAA) date. Our guys will tell me when they want to tell me … whenever the date is to make a decision by the NBA standards,” Calipari said. “That’s the only one we’re going to the think about. So if they want to wait to make a decision by the (29th) when they have to by the NBA, that’s when they’ll make it.

“We’re not even—I don’t even know the other date, nor do I care.”

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FRIENDLY WAGER: A trophy and bragging rights are on the line for Kansas and Kentucky’s basketball programs. For the governors of the two states it’s food.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is wagering beef that the Jayhawks will earn their second national championship in four years. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has a Kentucky country ham riding on his team’s chances. The winning governor will donate the food to a food bank.

Brownback noted that Kentucky coaching legend Adolph Rupp is from Kansas. He played for Phog Allen and coached high school ball before eventually landing at Kentucky.
 

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