By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
Kentucky coach John Calipari issued a challenge to Kyle Wiltjer following Kentucky’s seven-point loss to Duke earlier this week.
After scoring five points against the Blue Devils following a 19-point outing in a season-opening win over Maryland, Calipari wanted Wiltjer to work harder to get his shot and be more aggressive without the ball. Wiltjer responded to Calipari’s call by scoring a season-high 23 points in a 101-49 rout of Lafayette Friday night at Rupp Arena.
Wiltjer drained a career-high seven shots from long range and produced the second 20-point outing of his career. He had 23 points in a win over Loyola last year at Rupp Arena. Wiltjer said he “wasn’t moving without the ball” in the loss to Duke, but made the proper adjustments and came within a point of matching his career high. Wiltjer said Calipari is “great” at pushing his squad and “gets the best out of us.”
“You see how energetic he is out there and it’s really because of his passion to win and he wants the best for us later down the road,” Wiltjer said. “He’s not looking at this game, he just wants us to get better as a team. One way of doing that is pushing individual players one at a time. He does a great job of that.”
Calipari also wants Wiltjer to keep shooting, especially when opportunity knocks like it did against the outmanned Leopards.
“He (Calipari) wanted me to shoot open shots when I had them,” Wiltjer said afterward. “He is confident in my shot. I just wanted to move and space the court well, so I could either (pass) to my teammates or get open shots. It’s always good as a shooter to see some go down, especially when I went on a bad shooting spurt (in the second half). Just to see some go down is a good feeling as a shooter.”
With the exception of a “stretch” in the second half, Wiltjer was on task and producing results for the Cats. Wiltjer opened Kentucky’s scoring with back-to-back three-pointers and drained five more treys in the second half. His lone mistake in the second half was a lack of movement without the ball.
“There was a stretch in the second half where he wasn’t (getting open),” Calipari said. “He was not moving. He wasn’t — he has to work hard to create the shot before he catches. If he doesn’t, I’m going to play Willie (Cauley-Stein). That’s just how it is. I’m telling you what I told him. If you don’t work hard to create space and a shot for yourself — before you catch the ball, and I’m watching, you’re out.
“So today what he did, he (took it) personally in the second half, he saw gaps, erased to those gaps and guys found him also, and he made shots. He’s not going to go seven for 11 from the three every time. But I believe he can go 4 for 11 or 5 for 11 every time. I believe that. I believe he’s that good. But he can’t do it jogging to his spot, or not being prepared to shoot. You’re not going to do it.”
For most of the contest, Wiltjer was on target and took advantage of his opportunity. He created adequate spacing for most of the second half and made his five treys from various spots in the floor.
“We really worked on spacing,” Wiltjer said. “Coach Cal does a great job of teaching us where to go when we don’t have the ball, so that we’re not just standing around.”
It was Julius Mays who found Wiltjer on most of his shots. Mays dished out a team-high 10 assists and was mostly responsible for giving Wiltjer most of his opportunities on the perimeter.
“He’s a great passer and he did a great job finding me and giving me shots,” Wiltjer said.
Although the Wildcats dominated the Leopards, Wiltjer knows the Cats have more room for improvement.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “We just want to come into practice and work hard so that we can become a better team. Right now, we’re nowhere near where we can be.”