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January 16, 2013

Wiltjer asks for ball, batters Vols as UK wins at Rupp

After Kentucky lost to Texas A&M Saturday, changes had to be made.

Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer took it personally. His more aggressive, high-energy play helped the Wildcats beat Tennessee 75-65 Tuesday at Rupp Arena.

Wiltjer has been criticized all season for his soft play and the inability to create his own shot. But against the Volunteers, Wiltjer attacked the rim, knocked down shots and even asked coach John Calipari to draw plays centered around himself.

"In practice we ran some sets for me, kind of designed them (for me)," Wiltjer said. "In the game I said, 'Cal can we run that play?'"

Calipari obliged.

"You know what was great about Kyle? For the first time since he's been here Kyle told me to run a play for him," Calipari said. "Which I absolutely did. Because the minute a kid goes to you and says, 'Coach run four down,' you run it, because now it's off me and on him."

Wiltjer saw something in Tennessee's defense that he felt he could take advantage of and score.

"I knew that the defender would cheat on the screen," Wiltjer said. "So we just ran it and I knocked it down, so it was nice."

And Calipari said Wiltjer came back for more. He finished with a team-high 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including two three-pointers. Wiltjer set the tone for UK's offense by scoring 10 first half points.

The 17 points are tied for the most Wiltjer has scored since dropping 23 against Lipscomb on Dec. 15.

"He even came back after he made (the first) shot and came back and said, 'Run another play for me,'" Calipari said. "And we did, and when he came back for the third one I said, 'Come on man, come on, let's let someone else shoot.'"

In four of UK's five losses this season Wiltjer scored fewer than seven points. Wiltjer said when he's scoring it takes pressure off other Cats.

As the defense keyed in on Wiltjer in the second half, the post was less crowded. That allowed Nerlens Noel to capitalize. The freshman had 12 second-half points.

"It really spreads the court," Wiltjer said. "People have to respect my shooting and they have to stay on me. A lot of the plays we run, they have to stick out and that why post-ups are open for other players."

Wiltjer is known to knock down open threes - he's shooting nearly 42 percent from deep - but he scored eight points in the paint, even drawing two fouls and hitting 3-of-4 free throws.

His four free-throw attempts were tied for a season high. He went 3-of-4 at the line against Maryland in the season opener.

Wiltjer isn't the type of player that put out a set number to score each night, instead hoping to help his team.

Freshman Alex Poythresssaid when Wiltjer is confident it spreads throughout the team.

"It helps us out a lot (when Wiltjer is hitting shots)," Poythress said. "It builds his confidence, it builds our confidence. When he's out there, he brings a lot to the table."

And Tuesday, it was scoring all over the court and demanding plays be ran through him. This new and improved aggressive Wiltjer helped the Cats get back to their winning ways.

"I just need to be aggressive so I can open up my teammates as well," Wiltjer said.


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