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Kyle Wiltjer did not let criticism keep him from staying positive and believing in himself

Kyle Wiltjer drives to the basket in the win over Tennessee. (Clay Jackson photo)

Kyle Wiltjer drives to the basket in the win over Tennessee. (Clay Jackson photo)


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.”

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  1. Larry T Clemons

    First, Thank You BBN in RUPP ARENA last night, ” you were a difference maker ” and always at the right time….Last night we saw what we never saw before, Kyle Wiltjer Down Low, blocking shots, getting rebounds, boxing out and scoring points. Wow ! I even saw a mini hook shot from Kyle…Coach Cal, you know your Team and many questioned the critic of Kyle (and whether he could handle it), well Coach, hats off to you and Kyle both…This was a breakthrough game, Alex, your next ! Go gett’um Coach…

  2. Karen Sprinkle

    Kyle had a great game last night, not only in scoring but in the other little things that matter such as blocking out, assists and all. Kudos to the young man for continuing to believe in himself and his teammates!

    1. larryvaught

      I thought it was Kyle’s best all-around game even though it was not his highest scoring game

  3. Rodney

    This team simply has to have Wiltjer’s offense is they are going to be at their best. There just isn’t enough offense on this team without him doing what he did last night for this team to play at a high level nigh after night. It is on Kyle to make sure he can play defense well enough to stay on the floor. Last night he well enough on both ends. Great job Kyle! This team needs you to step and be a leader.

  4. Pacman

    Goodwin could have taken some lessons from Wiltjer last night… especially the backwards scoop pass to a cutting Noel in the lane that allowed Noel to get a dunk in the second half. Those are plays that build teamwork, trust and momentum. It stops other teams from cheating off certain players if you are willing to make the extra pass.

    1. David

      I agree Pacman, but as critical as I have been of Goodwin, about being selfish and trying to hard to carry the team on his own, I must say in his defense he seemed to pass the ball to open players more this past game.So my hats off to him for getting his team mates more involved and to Kyle for a great game.

  5. G-Mill

    Kyle knows how to play the game. The key to his continued success must start in the gym. It is obvious by looking at him, that he doesn’t like to workout. If he dedicated himself to the gym he could not only be a great college player, but also a good pro. the question is, “How bad does he want it?”

  6. Don

    Just would like to see Goodwin keep his head up and not bulldog into a swarm of defenders. He can pull up and bury those short jumpers when driving the lane or pass out to an open Wiltjer for a three.

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