He put up Nerlens Noel type numbers against the Volunteers: 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and only one turnover in 26 minutes of play. He was 6-10 from the field and 2-6 from the three point line. He showed that he could create his own shot off of the dribble and finish tough shots around the rim. The most encouraging part was that he was doing a lot of this late in the game when Archie Goodwin was out the bench with five fouls.
This is the Kyle Wiltjer that we have all been waiting for and he could not have shown up at a better time.
Wiltjer admitted that he was motivated from his coach’s criticism’s and that he turned them into positives that he used against Tennessee:
He (Calipari) is a great coach. He does not want us to let up,” Wiltjer said. “He has the ability to adjust on the run. Coach has been on me to drive more. That’s the mentality I had in practice and it carried over to the game.
Can we expect more of this from Kyle Wiltjer going forward? If so then this bodes well for the Wildcats in SEC play. Wiljer can play the calming role off of the bench. When things start to get frantic or muddled up, as they often do with this team, Wiltjer can settle things down with his methodical play and his precision shooting. His presence on the offensive end keeps defenses honest and he acts as the zone buster for teams that want to push the Cats out into the perimeter.
As for his defense, all he has to do is be a presence. I don’t think John Calipari is expecting him to be DeAndre Liggins, but what Cal does expect is effort and for him to put his body in the way of his opponent in order to make it hard for him to get to the rim. If he can slow the player down, then that gives Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein time to rotate in the middle for help or a blocked shot.
The Kyle Wiltjer that we saw on Tuesday makes it much easier for the Wildcats to win. He adds a wrinkle that can be hard to iron out. But he can’t be the player he was against Vanderbilt. That Kyle Wiltjer was nothing more than a body on the floor. His teammates might as well have been playing four on five.
If Wiltjer can sustain his play, then there is still hope for this team. If not, then their bubble may burst much sooner than they want it to.
*H/T to Larry Vaught for the Wiltjer quote