Kyle Wiltjer equaled a career high by making seven three-point shots in Kentucky's 88-50 victory over Lipscomb on Saturday. His swish-swish-swish blew away a supposed shooting slump as well as the opponent.
But Wiltjer's sharp-shooting — which came in a game his teammates made one of 13 from three-point range — did not overly impress UK Coach John Calipari.
"I don't care that he made shots," Calipari said. "He got 12 rebounds."
Wiltjer's 12 rebounds, which surpassed his previous career high of eight, allowed him to post the first double-double of his college career.
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"Just working hard and having a mentality," Wiltjer said of his surprisingly abundant board work (he'd had 12 total rebounds in the previous three games). "I went into the game wanting to get some rebounds."
The seek-and-you-shall-find came at a fitting time. Four technical fouls and a mass substitution early in the second half by an agitated Calipari suggested a game that wasn't an artistic pleasure.
"You can say, well, they weren't that big," Calipari said of Wiltjer's rebounds. "Well, that big kid (6-foot-10 Lipscomb freshman Stephen Hurt) had nine rebounds at halftime. My two big guys had three."
Actually, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress combined for five first-half rebounds, but the point was that Calipari welcomed the gentlemanly Wiltjer at long last throwing his weight around.
"He had to go in there and mix it up a little bit," the UK coach said approvingly.
Not-so-coincidentally, Kentucky's breakout run in the second half coincided with revived rebounding. With Lipscomb leading the rebounding 26-21 through the first 24 minutes, the Cats held a tenuous 10-point lead. Then UK outrebounded the Bisons 13-1 over the next seven minutes. In that time, Kentucky used a 17-1 run to kill any doubt about which team would win.
"No disrespect to Kentucky or anybody else, (but) I think we more self-destructed than (anything UK imposed)," Lipscomb Coach Scott Sanderson said.
Wiltjer let it be known early that he might be unusually active. Well, not that early. For the first time this season, he came off the bench.
Calipari said he decided on the drive to Rupp Arena to start Poythress rather than Wiltjer.
"See if he'll compete in the first four or five minutes," Calipari said of starting Poythress. "He did OK," the UK coach added with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. "I believe (guard) Julius Mays outrebounded him for the game (he did, 6-4). You take that however you want to take it, but those numbers don't lie."
Calipari sat Poythress for Wiltjer with 18:03 left in the first half.
Having made only five of 30 three-point shots in the previous six games, Wiltjer hit three before the second television timeout and came within two of matching the Rupp Arena record for a UK player (nine by Tony Delk against Texas Christian on Jan. 20, 1996).
Sanderson lamented how his players allowed Wiltjer, a catch-and-shoot guy who defenders want to make dribble, had plenty of time to shoot.
"When (a pass from the post) comes out fast, he's there setting his feet being able to shoot the basketball," the Lipscomb coach said. "That obviously was not supposed to happen. I think all nine of his (three-point shots) appeared to be wide open. That wasn't the plan at all."
Wiltjer started the second half. Although he scored UK's first five points of the second half, Calipari did not like what he saw. He called timeout with 18:43 left and a 14-point halftime lead down to 10. Jarrod Polson entered the game. With 17:33 left and Lipscomb about to shoot a free throw, Calipari inserted four more players: Jon Hood, Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Poythress.
When Poythress failed to rebound a missed free throw, Calipari benched him. Calipari said Poythress offered a multiple choice of explanations for not getting the rebound: a sore big toe or a teammate on the other side of the lane failed to block out. The UK coach chose none of the above. "You're out!" he said in summarizing the exchange.
"Kentucky wasn't ready to play," Sanderson said of the start to the second half. "And they gave us every opportunity."
With Wiltjer contributing two more three-pointers, Kentucky pulled away.