KENTUCKY 75, TENNESSEE 65
Jan. 15, 2013
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.
Kyle Wiltjer scored a team-high 17 points in Kentucky's win over Tennessee
Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays have both struggled with consistency but re-emerged when Kentucky desperately needed someone to make a play with the season teetering on the edge.
Mays hit back-to-back three-pointers and Wiltjer followed with two crafty buckets to keep Tennessee at bay in the final five minutes to hold on for a wild 75-65 victory at Rupp Arena. The two veterans on a freshman-laden team combined for 12 points in the critical stretch to avoid a second straight defeat.
The game wasn't particularly pretty for either team but the Cats found a way to make the plays down the stretch they didn't against Texas A&M, sparked by Mays' consecutive triples from the left wing despite having been in an extended shooting slump.
Wiltjer finished with a team-high 17 points, while Nerlens Noel added 12 points and nine rebounds and Mays scored nine points. Tennessee's Jordan McRae scored 23 points.
“The trust I'm telling you about with these guys, unless everybody’s doing what they are supposed to, you don't trust each other. This guy, we all know what he's supposed to do but he's not doing it. Well, how can I trust him? Now I worry about myself, now he can't trust me, and then you look like a team that doesn't trust each other. We made some strides but we have a ways to go, believe me.”
“(Kentucky) did a good job in the second half of really executing their offense. I thought (Nerlens) Noel did a tremendous job in the second half of really setting the tone defensively and altering shots.” – Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“The last couple of days we've been running some new plays for me to get shots. I knew we put them in so I looked over and called it and we ran it. I've worked hard in practice and they freed me open in practice so I just had confidence in myself.” – UK forward Kyle Wiltjer, on asking Calipari to run a play for him for first time
For two weeks Kyle Wiltjer has been Kentucky coach John Calipari's whipping boy. The sophomore forward has been harangued for his defensive liabilities, chastised for his lack of hustle and implored to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. When the Cats needed him most he broke out of his funk, scoring a team-high 17 points while adding five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Wiltjer hit a pair of first half three-pointers and then scored back-to-back baskets with UK trying to hold its lead in the closing minutes, finally showing the fight and toughness Calipari had been seeking.
The table was set for another crushing loss. The Cats had let Tennessee hang around long enough to be tied with 6:27 remaining, creating a third straight game where the outcome would come down to the final minutes. This time the Cats closed the game out strong when Ryan Harrow made a nice cut and lay-in to give UK the lead for good, Noel blocked a shot that led to a Julius Mays' three on the break and Wiltjer flicked in a tough running bank shot as the shot clock ticked down to keep the Volunteers from escaping Rupp Arena with a victory.
Julius Mays' two late three-pointers were critical but once again it was the quiet, steady contributions of Nerlens Noel that altered the outcome of the game. The freshman forward is still a major work in progress on the offensive end but he managed to pair 12 points with nine rebounds, six blocked shots and four steals to again stuff the stat sheet. Several of Noel's teammates credited him for his leadership and hustle, while Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin offered the 6-foot-11 big man's defensive presence in the lane altered the Volunteers' approach in the second half.
13.4 – As this Kentucky team continues to search for consistent offense there is a very clear pattern emerging: when Kyle Wiltjer is effective on that end of the floor the Cats are much better than when he is either off his game or unable to get off shots. In the Cats' 11 victories the forward is averaging 13.4 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from three-point range. In UK's five defeats he is averaging 5.6 points while shooting 28.1 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from three-point range. Clearly, the Cats need an engaged Kyle Wiltjer this season.
John Calipari said it best after the game – you're probably just going to have to accept that this particular Kentucky team isn't going to make anything easy on itself. The Cats have some obvious deficiencies and tend to find ways to keep inferior opponents in the game, which is why you're going to see a lot more tense finishes. The good news is this group has found a way to win two of the past three games when the outcome came down to the closing minutes and that's a sign of progress, however slight that may be.
Kentucky (11-5, 2-1) hits the road for a pair of road games, beginning with a trip to Auburn for a late 9 p.m. tip on Saturday, Jan. 19.