UK Basketball: Wiltjer says loss a lesson for Cats
Vanderbilt forward Lance Goulbourne drives to the basket against Kentucky's Kyle Wiltjer, left, in the second half of a 71-64 win over the Wildcats Sunday in New Orleans. (The Associated Press)
“It’s really exciting (to be playing in the tournament),” the Kentucky freshman guard said. “Being able to watch it the last couple of years and to finally be a part of it (is exciting) and I’m just humbled to be here. I’m excited for it. We want to make a run for (a national title).”
Wiltjer remembers cheering for last year’s team that got on a roll and reached the Final Four, before losing to eventual champion Connecticut in the national semifinals at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas.
“I was definitely watching every game (last year),” he said.
Although the Wildcats (31-2) lost to Vanderbilt in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Wiltjer is “confident” Kentucky can rebound from the loss to the Commodores.
“We’re excited for it,” he said. “We lost (Sunday), which isn’t good, but we definitely can learn from it and moving forward we can learn a lot of things and get better.”
Wiltjer added that the Cats can learn from the contest like they did following a loss to Indiana on Dec. 10 in Bloomington. Following the setback to the Hoosiers, Kentucky won 24 straight games, ran the table in the conference and won two contests in the tournament before the loss to the Commodores Sunday in New Orleans.
“It (the loss) is going to inspire us to not lose again,” he said. “We just want to approach every game like it’s our last (game) and play with fire in the tournament.”
In order to formulate the same success the team had following the one-point setback at Indiana, Wiltjer said it will require the same work ethic and approach this time around. Wiltjer added that the one-point setback was alarming and sent a signal to the team, which lost its top ranking before regaining the top slot several weeks later.
“It (the loss to Indiana) woke us up and definitely showed us the things that we needed to work on. We worked really hard. We listened to coach (Calipari) and relied on coach, because he knows best. He’s been there and done that. We honed down on defense and really improved our game.”
Wiltjer is glad the Cats are playing close to home and added that he expects the same following the team had during the SEC Tournament last weekend in New Orleans.
“We’re excited for it,” Wiltjer said. “Big Blue Nation travels very well and to be part of the fan base is such a great honor.”
Wiltjer said playing at theYum! Center has additional advantages along with being close to home.
“We can play off the crowd,” he said. “We usually don’t like to play off the crowd, but we just want to play our game and do what we do, but that’s one advantage to having them (the fans) with us.”