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By LARRY VAUGHT
When Kentucky barely won at Vanderbilt to open Southeastern Conference play, coach John Calipari blasted sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer for his lack of defensive presence and even noted how many points he gave up.
Yet rather than take the criticism personally, Wiltjer says he “tried to stay positive and work harder” to take more pride in his play.
“We have confidence in ourselves that we can break through. We’ve got a lot of improving to do so I think we can use that as motivation and try to just really stomp on people and not have any breakdowns,” said Wiltjer.
He had 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 at the foul line in Tuesday’s 75-65 win over Tennessee. He also got five rebounds, blocked two shots and handed out two assists in 26 minutes of play.
Late in the game, he asked Calipari to run plays for him — and both times he scored. The first came on a left-handed shot in the lane and the second on a runner along the baseline. Earlier he had scored on a scoop shot as well as a 12-foot baseline jumper to go along with his two 3-pointers.
“In practice we had run some sets for me. We kind of designed them and in the game I just said, ‘Coach Calipari, can we run that play.’ I knew that the defender would cheat on the screen so we just ran it and then I knocked it down so he was happy,” Wiltjer said.
The sophomore said Saturday’s home loss to Texas A&M “hurt” the Wildcats.
“We didn’t want that to happen again so we just really wanted to get a close win and it feels really good that we were able to pull it out,” Wiltjer said.
Calipari said Wiltjer had never asked him to run a play for him, but he likes it when a player wants the ball in a clutch situation.
“I always will do it,” Calipari said. “I have no problem with that.”
Wiltjer said Calipari’s criticism last week motivated him.
“He is a great coach. He does not want us to let up,” Wiltjer said. “He has the ability to adjust on the run. Coach has been on me to drive more. That’s the mentality I had in practice and it carried over to the game.”