NCAA Tournament

Opponents can't overlook UK's Kyle Wiltjer

UK forward Kyle Wiltjer, right, makes a basket in the first half. UK hosted Ole Miss Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at Rupp Arena in Lexington . Photo by
UK forward Kyle Wiltjer, right, makes a basket in the first half. UK hosted Ole Miss Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 at Rupp Arena in Lexington . Photo by Herald-Leader

Freshman Kyle Wiltjer's contribution to a record-setting Kentucky romp through the Southeastern Conference this season has not gone unnoticed.

"He's very valuable to their team," Georgia Coach Mark Fox said on a SEC coaches' teleconference Monday. "The one advantage Kentucky has over just about everybody across the country is there's really not a guy on the team that just doesn't score. You have to honor everybody.

"And Kyle is somebody, when he's in the game you have to pay attention to him."

Wiltjer made a three-point shot in Kentucky's 74-59 victory at Florida on Sunday, which wrapped up only the third perfect league record since 1956. That made him 16-for-31 from beyond the arc in league play.

"You never know when you're going to need that production from the bench," Fox said of the upcoming NCAA Tournament. "And they certainly have a guy who's proven now he can do that."

During his turn on the teleconference, UK Coach John Calipari said he might tinker with a front line of Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Wiltjer in practices this week leading to the SEC Tournament next weekend.

"The reality of it is the kid deserves more (playing) time," Calipari said, "except Anthony Davis and Terrence are pretty good. ... So it's hard unless you play all three together."

As of late, Wiltjer has been playing better defensively and grabbing more rebounds (two in eight minutes at Florida), Calipari said.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan suggested that Wiltjer benefits from playing with a starry cast.

"Really, a lot of his offense is not as much him creating as it's other guys creating for him," Donovan said. "The games are made very, very easy for him because of the personnel on the floor."

Although Calipari scoffed last week at the notion of depth being a potential Kentucky weakness, Fox said that UK needed contributions from reserves.

"One thing about Kentucky, as dominant as they are, they don't have great depth," the Georgia coach said. "It's important everybody play well and be consistent."

Calipari saluted freshman point guard Marquis Teague's consistent good play.

The UK coach said that while waiting at the Gainesville, Fla., airport after Sunday's game, a NBA front-office type saluted Teague's transformation from possible question mark to team leader.

"Without point guard play, we cannot do the things we are doing ... ," Calipari said. "You cannot do this if the guy with the ball is not playing for his teammates."

Record-setting season

Kentucky finished six games ahead of the three teams that finished tied for second place (Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida). That equalled a league record for separation from first and second place.

The only other championship team to finish six games ahead of the pack was Kentucky in 1995-96.

The unbeaten SEC record and final distance ahead of other teams make Calipari the obvious choice for coach of the year, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said.

"Going undefeated (in the league) and one loss the entire season, you're probably deserving of not only, maybe coach of the year in our league, but maybe national coach of the year," said Stallings, who added that he voted the Calipari as SEC Coach of the Year.

When a reporter noted that Cuonzo Martin took a Tennessee team picked to finish 11th and guided it to the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, Stallings said, "I don't think if they had Jarnell Stokes on the team (then), they'd have been picked 11th."

Stokes joined the UT team in January.

Fox voiced agreement.

"Cuonzo has done a great job," the Georgia coach said, "but they didn't fire Bruce (Pearl) because he had bad players. When you're undefeated and win by the margin Kentucky won the league by, I don't think you can vote against John. I just think that's a pretty remarkable feat."

'C'mon man'

A question about how big a favorite Kentucky would be in the SEC Tournament left LSU Coach Trent Johnson incredulous.

"I think they maybe will be an underdog," he said, sarcastically, before adding, "(Geez), c'mon man."

Horn supported

South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn, a Tates Creek graduate, noted the "positive" support he'd received recently from school administrators. He declined to elaborate.

The Gamecocks finished last in the SEC regular-season record. South Carolina has lost 23 of its last 26 games against league opponents.

SEC honors

Anthony Davis was named the SEC's freshman of the week. He averaged 15.5 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in wins against Georgia and Florida. It was the sixth time Davis has earned a weekly award from the conference.

Darius Miller was named to the Southeastern Conference Community Service team for men's basketball. Miller's charity work includes involvement with God's Pantry, the Ronald McDonald House, the Cats' Samaritan Feet project, and visits with children at the UK Children's Hospital and local elementary schools.

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