When Kentucky received its 2012-13 regular season basketball schedule, a handful of games stood out in the non-conference slate. Lipscomb was not one of those games. The former Nashville Bible School is one of the easiest opponents Kentucky will face all season, and it showed on Saturday. The Cats won, 88-50, behind big games from Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer, two guys UK needed big games from. Harrow played great in his first start since disappearing after the Maryland game; Wiltjer, the guy he replaced in the lineup, led the team in scoring. They had help, too, as seven Wildcats scored at least seven points.
Let’s talk about it — with fancy little UK logos as bullets so it’s easier to read. That’s how we roll.
After missing 25 of his last 30 3-point field goal attempts, Kyle Wiltjer came off the bench with a hand hotter than Kate Upton’s summer 2012 GQ spread. The Kentucky sophomore entered the game for Alex Poythress, two minutes in, and knocked down his first three 3-point tries. He went on to shoot 7-for-9 from beyond the arc on his way to a game-high 23 points, his second 20+ point game of the season.
But shooting isn’t all Kyle Wiltjer did to earn MVP honors; he also hustled, played defense and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds. It was the first double-double of his collegiate career. Afterwards, Coach Cal commended Wiltjer for the way he responded to being the sixth man for the first time all season. He said he was pleased to see a complete game, not just the seven 3-pointers. “I don’t care he made shots,” Cal said. “He had 12 rebounds.”
The decision to start Ryan Harrow over Wiltjer was made “on the way over,” according to Calipari on his postgame radio show. He doesn’t know if he’ll continue to do it, but he liked how it worked out today. We all did.
Ryan Harrow still has work to do, but he’s improving from game-to-game. Last week we saw what we hope was the beginning of his emergence as Kentucky’s point guard; today, he built on that with another strong showing in the backcourt. Harrow was more vocal than we’ve seen in previous games (more on that in a second) and he finished well around the rim. If you remember, Calipari said in the preseason that he wants Harrow to be the best layup-shooter in the SEC. He showed signs of that today, especially with that running floater in the lane. He finished with a season-high 12 points, his first double-figure game as a Wildcat.
After the game, Harrow admitted to using a unique technique to being the team’s vocal leader. He told reporters that he shouted out random stuff, just so Calipari would hear him yelling. He said, “I was just screaming anything, even if it didn’t have anything to do with the play. I was just screaming so he wouldn’t say anything to me.”
Harrow admitted to yelling, “SCREEN! SCREEN! SCREEN!” when a man wasn’t even up to set a screen. He threw in an occasional, “LETS GO!” for good measure.
I don’t think that’ll work all season.
The team’s communication is gradually improving, very gradually, but they still have a long way to go before Coach Cal is pleased. He believes they’re being selfish by not talking to each other more often. He said they’re more into themselves and what they’re doing individually, not looking out for one another and doing what the team needs them to do. You’ll never believe this, but he said he wants them to be their brother’s keeper — whatever that means. “One guy will talk and no one else speaks,” he said. “They have habits. It’s going to take a while to break.”
Cal is also disappointed with how his guys are quitting on plays, both offensively and defensively. He’s tired of seeing someone quit when the ball is still in play. He said it needs to change, no more excuses or blaming someone else.
Calipari overheard a fan behind Kentucky’s bench yell, “ALEX IS STANDING STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN!” He said he looked back at the fan and said, “Tell him. He won’t listen to me.”
It wasn’t one of Poythress’ better outings of the season and his 2-for-8 shooting could knock him from that top spot in the NCAA Division 1 field goal percentage list. He’s still not giving the effort we need to see out of him and this is the game we though he’d go beast mode. Maybe next time.
Julius Mays couldn’t buy a bucket but he responded by making up for it in other areas. It’s what Calipari has preached all season: If you’re not hitting shots, go out and find another way to help the team. Mays did so by hauling in a season-high six rebounds and playing good defense. Bad shooting days happen; it’s how you respond that’ll define your game. Uncle Julius continued to play hard and battle when most would’ve moped and hung their head.
Nerlens tied his season-high for blocks with seven, but it’ll take more than swatting shots to please Coach Cal. Calipari was quick to point out that UK was tossed around in the paint by Lipscomb, and asked what they expect to happen when the real competition starts up. “They threw us around,” he said of the frontcourt matchups. “What’s going to happen in the SEC? I’m not kidding. If we don’t change, what’s going to happen when we play SEC teams?”
If the Cats struggled with Lipscomb’s big men, I don’t even want to think about what will happen against a team like Florida if things don’t change between now and then. You can expect to see a change, though, because Cal is about to force it out of them. Camp Cal kicks off tomorrow and he said the morning workouts will be even longer, because the short ones from this past week didn’t seem to work. He’s going to push them through these three-a-days during Christmas break until they go from “making strides” to giving it 100% every trip up and down the court. “If you really want something, you gotta work,” he said. And they’re about to.
Calipari to the crowd after the game: “25,000 people in this building wanted us to look like pitbulls today. Did you see it? No.”
His postgame message to the team in the locker room was brief: “8:00 a.m. workouts. See you there.”
That’ll do it for now. I’ll leave you with this photo of Alexis Russell, a 5-year-old from Ashland, KY. She’s batting a rare form of cancer and recently had a tumor removed from her knee. To boost her spirit, the Tomcat Fishing Team, a group of friends from Ashland, offered to take her anywhere in the world and she chose to go to Rupp Arena to see a Kentucky basketball game…