Wiltjer's 7 Threes Leads UK in Blowout of Lipscomb
This article appears at RCN courtesy of partner KY Forward and is written by Jon Hale.
UK head coach John Calipari saw improvement in his team Saturday in an 88-50 win versus Lipscomb, but not as much as he would have liked.
“We just went five days, and I saw a little change,” he said. “So If I see a little change in this next week, from that point on, folks, we’re not winning many. That’s a fact.”
The biggest change for the Wildcats Saturday was the shooting of sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer.
Wiltjer had made just five of 30 three-point field goals in his last six games, but versus Lipscomb he hit seven of nine threes, finishing the game with 23 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. The performance marked the first double-double of his collegiate career.
“I don’t care whether he made shots, he got 12 rebounds,” Calipari said. “You could say, ‘Well, they weren’t that big.’ Well, that big kid had nine rebounds at halftime. My two big guys had three, so we had to go in there and mix it up a little bit.”
“It’s always good to see some shots go in, but I just wanted to have a good rebounding game because that’s what I’ve struggled on,” Wiltjer said. “I just wanted to become better at that, make strides.”
Wiltjer performance came in his first appearance off the bench of the season. In his place, sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow started for the second time this year.
Harrow finished the game with a season-high 12 points in a season-high 31 minutes.
“I thought he did better today,” Calipari said of Harrow. “I told him he needs to get 10 or 12 points a game. That’s all we need from him, and he did it without forcing shots. That’s what we need.”
For Harrow, the improvement came after a steady week of practice.
“I felt like I was going to do good in the game today,” he said. “Taking some shots — missing some, but making some at the same time — and just staying aggressive, trying to find the open man and trying to play defense. That’s basically what I’m trying to do.”
While the performances of Wiltjer and Harrow were bright points for the Wildcats, there were still several obvious flaws in their blowout win versus Lipscomb.
Lipscomb shot 48 percent from the field in the first half and equaled UK’s 19 rebounds at intermission despite the Wildcat’s superior size.
“No disrespect to Kentucky or anybody else, but I think we more self-destructed than it was them,” said Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson. “We turned the ball over 24 times, and they were more self-inflicted than they were because of Kentucky.”
Lipscomb scored the second half’s first two baskets to cut UK’s lead from 14 to 10, forcing Calipari to call a quick timeout. Just more than a minute later, Calipari subbed in four new players as he was unhappy with his team’s effort.
“You can say whatever you want to say, but at the end of the day, everybody watching it in the building, on TV, wants to see you compete at a higher level,” Calipari said. “They want to see you battle at a higher level.”
Calipari’s post-game comments to his team were quick and to the point, according to Harrow.
“Eight a.m. workouts. See you there,” Harrow recounted.
Those workouts start a period with no classes or final exams for the team. Calipari will host three-a-day practices during the winter break from classes, and players are expecting even more intensity from those workouts.
“It’s nothing but basketball, basketball, basketball for us now,” Harrow said. “The guys this year just have to be focused and ready for that. It’s going to be hard because you don’t see anybody else, nobody is in town, there’s not much to do. You’ve just got to be with the team. That just brings us closer together really.”
“If we don’t start changing, we’re going to struggle,” Calipari said. “That’s just how it is. We’ve already struggled in any game that anybody had any physical toughness to them.”
While he spent most of his post-game news conference focusing on his team’s shortcomings, Calipari still thinks his team can still be in position to make a run in March.
“If I see change and change and changes, it’s on,” he said. “Everybody would say that’s where they thought they could go.”
You can read more from the game on the KyForward UK Sports Notebook Tumblr.
PHOTO: Kyle Wiltjer shoots against Lipscomb Saturday/Jon Hale