UK Basketball: Wiltjer finds his shooting stroke in Wildcats' win over Lipscomb
Kyle Wiltjer receives congratulations from teammates after scoring 24 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in the win over Lipscomb. (Clay Jackson / December 15, 2012)
In a last-minute change of plans, Kentucky coach John Calipari opted against starting Wiltjer against Lipscomb on Saturday, and the sophomore guard delivered. Wiltjer recorded his first career collegiate double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds in the Wildcats' 88-50 rout at Rupp Arena.
It was Wiltjer's second 20-point game this season and the third of his career. In addition, he tied his career highs in points and 3-pointers (seven). As for his role off the bench, he said he “didn't think too much of it” when Calipari informed him he wasn’t starting.
“I just have to play my game, either if I'm starting or coming off the bench,” Wiltjer said. “When I got (in the game), I just wanted to get some rebounds and I was lucky enough to be open. Coach just told me to go in and be aggressive.”
Prior to his performance against Lipscomb, Wiltjer had made just 17 shots from 3-point range and just five in the previous six games. He hit 12 treys in the team's first three games before diving into a slump. Despite his struggles, he remained committed to his outside shot and added an emphasis on rebounding.
He said he felt he played better Saturday.
“I'm just trying to get better every day,” he said. “Being a shooter, you just try not to think about any of the previous games. You just go into the game and be confident and have the same approach every game.”
Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said all nine of Wiltjer's attempts from behind the arc “appeared to be wide open.”
“That wasn't the plan at all,” Sanderson said. “He's been their best shooter for the year.”
Wiltjer agreed with Sanderson's assessment of his performance.
“They really didn't close on me as hard, I don't think,” he said. “The shots were open and all week in practice, we knew they were going to be in a zone. I just had to be ready to shoot. It was a confidence boost to see some shots go in.”
Calipari liked the way Wiltjer took advantage of his open shots, but was even more impressed with Wiltjer’s double-digit rebound total, which Wiltjer said was the result of his approach to blocking out.
“It was just working hard and having a mentally (to get rebounds),” he said. “I just wanted to get some rebounds, and I did today. It just shows how impotant extra work is, and hopefully we can just keep working hard every day and keep making strides.”
Teammate Jarrod Polson wasn't surprised by Wiltjer's performance.
“I don't think he really has lost any confidence,” Polson said. “He has been shooting poorly the past couple of games, but it's definitely good for us to see him have that stroke back. He made seven 3s, but the better thing was his rebounding. He's been working on that, trying to get loose balls and rebounding. He definitely did a good job of that today.”
Wiltjer isn't satisfied and wants the team to keep moving forward.
“We just need working, change as players and keep listening to Coach,” he said. “We just need to change the little things and keep working on it. It's definitely going to be a lot of work (over the next two weeks). Keep working hard, and we will become a better basketball team.”