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|Kyle Wiltjer after the win over Lipscomb.|
By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
Kyle Wiltjer doesn’t mind starting. He also doesn’t mind coming off the bench. Either way, he just wants to contribute to his team’s success on the court.
In a last-minute change of plans, Kentucky coach John Calipari opted against starting Wiltjer against Lipscomb 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 of Lipscomb Saturday at Rupp Arena.
It was Wiltjer’s second 23-point outing this season and the third of his career. In addition, Wiltjer tied his career in points and three pointers with seven shots from long range. As for his role off the bench, Wiltjer “didn’t think too much of it” when Calipari informed him of not starting the contest.
“I just have to play my game, either if I’m starting or coming off the bench,” he 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 the Bisons, Wiltjer had made just 17 shots from long range and made just five in the previous six contests. He connected on 12 treys in the team’s first three games of the season before delving into a slump. Despite the struggles, Wiltjer remained committed to his outside shot and added an emphasis on rebounding. He added that he “played better” against the Bisons.
“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,” Wiltjer 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 outing on the boards. Wiltjer said the priority in the rebounding department 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.”
Wiltjer’s teammate, Jarrod Polson ,wasn’t surprised by Wiltjer’s showing against the Bisons.
“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 threes, 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 as the season progresses.
“We just need working, change as players and keep listening to coach (Calipari),” 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.”