LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kyle Wiltjer hit a shooting slump recently, and when he tried to rely on long-range shots to buoy his game, his total performance faded and his minutes dropped for Kentucky.
So the sophomore decided to work on it in two ways: Take more shots in the gym and focus more on rebounding than anything else during games.
It seems to have paid off Saturday. Wiltjer had his first career double-double, finishing with 23 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in Kentucky’s 88-50 win over Lipscomb.
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Wiltjer came off the bench for the first time this season — point guard Ryan Harrow took his spot in the starting five — but logged 24 minutes and was the key to Kentucky’s offense. He finished 8 of 12 from the field and 7 of 9 from 3-point range.
“I don’t care whether he made shots; he got 12 rebounds,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We had to go in there and mix it up a little bit.”
Excluding a 7-of-11 3-point performance against Lafayette on Nov. 16, Wiltjer has shot 10 of 38 from deep this season. He was hot Saturday, though, making his first three 3-point attempts in the first half and equaling his highest scoring game of the season.
“Being a shooter, you just try not to think about previous games,” Wiltjer said. “Just go in the game and be confident, just have the same approach every game.”
Lipscomb (4-5) kept its deficit within single digits much of the first half until the Wildcats scored six straight points to close the half with a 43-29 lead.
But Kentucky (7-3) broke the game open in the second half by outscoring the Bisons 22-3 over a five-minute stretch. Wiltjer had six points in that stretch, and Harrow had four.
Harrow played aggressively on offense for the second straight game after returning timidly from missing four games with flu-like symptoms and an undisclosed family issue. He led the Wildcats with 13 field-goal attempts, making six and finishing with 12 points.
He was also more active as a vocal leader for the team, Calipari said, which the sophomore had often struggled to do this season. Harrow said when Calipari would tell him to scream out at his team, he would do it even if he didn’t know what to scream about.
“I might have been saying, `Screen, screen, screen,’ and the dude wasn’t even up there to screen yet, so it was just something on defense that I thought was a defensive term,” Harrow said. “`Screen, screen, screen,’ or something like that, and the man wasn’t even screening. I was like, `Let me just say let’s go from now on.'”
Martin Smith had 18 points for Lipscomb, and Stephen Hurt finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double.
Deonte Alexander of the Bisons was disqualified in the second half after picking up his second technical foul. Both technicals were assessed after brief verbal exchanges with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, one in each half. Noel also received a technical foul in the second-half exchange.
Noel finished with seven points, nine rebounds, seven blocks and four steals for the Wildcats. He fouled out with 5:21 to play. The freshman has had seven blocks in two consecutive games.
Though Harrow started in Wiltjer’s place, the two shared a considerable amount of floor time Saturday. With Wiltjer’s stroke working, Harrow said it made his job much easier.
“Either they’re going to guard him and it gives me a open lane, or they’re going to commit to me and all I’ve got to do is pass it right to him and I know he’s going to knock down the shot,” Harrow said. “I knew he was going to have a good shooting day, too, because he was doing good in practice and knocking down shots all week.”