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December 22, 2011Call it the Kyle Conundrum. Or the Wiltjer Worriment.
Whatever name you want to give it, it's a complicated equation for Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari.
He wants freshman Kyle Wiltjer on the court for his offensive prowess. But Calipari can't give Wiltjer more minutes without a more determined defensive effort.
That issue was at the forefront Thursday as Wiltjer poured in a career-high 24 points to lead No. 3 UK to an 87-63 win against Loyola (Md.) in a Rupp Arena matinee.
Defensively, Wilter struggled to contain the Greyhounds on the perimeter and in the paint.
"We've got to help him defensively," Calipari said. "I mean, we've got to do some schemes with him because there are certain match ups that he's just not ready to go with. But we need that shooting and that scoring on the floor. So I've got to come up with some schemes to help him."
Wiltjer is proving he can help Kentucky at the other end of the floor.
With fellow Portland, Ore., native Terrence Jones sidelined with a dislocated left pinky finger, Wiltjer got more chances to score against a big, physical Loyola team.
"I thought I played well," Wiltjer said in a release from UK. "I wanted to go in there and play good minutes and keep grinding it out, and luckily a lot of the shots fell for me tonight."
Wiltjer - who like all UK players was unavailable for interviews due to holiday travel - hit 7-of-11 shots and made 3-of-6 three-points on a day when the rest of the Wildcats (11-1) were 0-for-9 from three-point range. He added four rebounds, an assist and a steal.
"I think he did a great job," senior Darius Miller said in a release. "He did a great job of knocking down shots and creating shots. He opened up the floor for us."
That's Wiltjer's strength, and UK needed it against the Greyhounds (8-3).
Loyola didn't back down from the Cats or the Rupp Arena crowd of 22,774. After falling behind 33-23 with 6:02 to play in the first half, the Greyhounds rallied to within two at 33-31.
"I knew it would be a hard game," Calipari said. "They're athletic and tough and older than us, and they weren't afraid. They came right after us."
UK led 45-39 at halftime, and it was 51-46 after Loyola's Justin Drummond scored a layup with 17:47 to play in the game.
The Wildcats answered with a 22-4 run keyed by Wiltjer and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Wiltjer started the run with a three-pointer at the 17:13 mark - UK's first of the game, extending its streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer to 799 straight - and scored 10 points during the game-breaking stretch. Kidd-Gilchrist scored four of his 15 points during that run on a pair of dunks.
Anthony Davis had 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for Kentucky, but Wiltjer was the game's offensive standout. His long-distance shooting "really stretches out the defense," Calipari said, and that's crucial for giving UK's slashers room to roam in the dribble-drive offense.
But for Wiltjer to stay on the floor, he has to make improvements defensively. He battled on the boards Thursday but gave up post position and watched Greyhounds glide past him on the perimeter.
"I just wanted to continue doing what I was doing," Wiltjer said in a release. "I wanted to try to hit open shots because last game I didn't feel like I was knocking down open shots. All of those little things that coach wanted me to focus on, I tried to focus on."
Those things include defensive effort, and Calipari will keep harping on that until he solves the Kyle Conundrum.
"I think the kid has a toughness at heart, but we're just going to have to help him," Calipari said. "I've got to get him to take more charges, not going to block shots, charge, block out more, and then when he's in the post we've got to do some things."