John Clay: Wiltjer's shooting woes continue

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 4, 2012 

Kentucky took the opening tip, ran a little offense and then there was Kyle Wiltjer wide open for a three-pointer out of the left corner.

Everything seemed in rhythm, the pass, the catch, the release. Everything looked perfect.

Everything was perfect except the shot, which bounced off the rim.

The crowd groaned.

Luckily, for Kentucky, it wasn't the sign of things to come, at least not until the second half.

In the midst of a two-game losing streak, fresh off the program's first home loss in the John Calipari Era, the Cats did bounce back with an impressive first half, ripping to a 31-point lead before going on to beat Samford 88-56.

Calipari was less than happy with the second half — a second half UK won by a single point, 43-42 — and proclaimed numerous times in the post-game press conference that the only explanation he could think of was his team is out of shape.

So, it will get up in the morning and run. And run. And run.

"We will be in shape," said the coach.

Truth be told, through eight games, this team does seem out of shape, but not specifically the out of shape that comes from conditioning.

It seems far from a team that is rounding into shape. Right now, it appears to be a set of differing pieces that hasn't figured out how to fit together. It seems to be, well, just off.

Just as Wiltjer's shot is, well, off.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore out of Portland is known for his dead-eye perimeter shooting. He is not the fastest player on the floor, or the most athletic, or the best defender. But he can shoot.

He just hasn't been shooting well of late.

In the first three games of the season, Wiltjer made 16 of 30 shots for 53.3 percent. He nailed 12 of 19 three-pointers for a sizzling 63.2 percent.

In fact, Calipari complained that Wiltjer wasn't getting enough shots. After Wiltjer took just five shots against Duke, Calipari said he couldn't keep the forward on the floor if Wiltjer didn't find a way to get off more shots.

But over the next four games, Wiltjer cooled off considerably. He made just nine of 31 from the floor (29 percent) and just three of his 22 three-point attempts (13.6 percent).

Kentucky lost two of those four games, including last Saturday's matchup with Baylor, a game in which CBS color man Clark Kellogg remarked that he thought Wiltjer was guiding his shot.

Calipari wasn't having any of that before Monday's practice, basically saying that Wiltjer would be fine.

Unfortunately, Tuesday night against Samford, the slump continued. Wiltjer was 3-for-9 from the floor. Worse, he missed four of his five three-point attempts.

He missed both his first-half threes before finally knocking one home out of the right corner with 16:13 left to extend the UK lead to 48-23.

Alas, he missed two more threes after that. So through his last five games, Wiltjer has now made four of 27 three-point shots.

"I just want to try and keep working every day and try and get myself out of this slump," he said afterward. "I just have to keep getting in extra practice."

Actually, aside from the shooting, the sophomore's stat sheet looked pretty good. Wiltjer did other things well, ending up with 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and not a single turnover.

But Calipari wasn't in the mood to dole out praise.

"Must not be in shape," said the coach when asked about Wiltjer's stat line. "Didn't go on pick-and-rolls, didn't go get balls. Must not be in shape."

Time to get in shape.

"We're excited about it," claimed Wiltjer. "We're ready to get in better shape. We just want to do what Cal wants us to do."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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