LEXINGTON — Freshman Kyle Wiltjer had a career-high 19 points in Kentucky’s win over Penn State on Saturday — his second double figure scoring game — and goes into tonight’s game with Radford averaging 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots per game. He’s shooting 50 percent (14-for-28) overall from the field, but only 33.3 percent (3-for-9) from 3-point range.
Wiltjer shared his thoughts on his progress and team before practice Tuesday:
Question: What does Calipari mean when he says he wants you to be tougher?
Wiltjer: “He just wants me to get tougher every day in practice. He said I am going against Terrence (Jones) every day. He is going to match me up to get tougher. If I can defend him and rebound against him then I can do it against the best. He just really emphasizes working on getting tougher. Getting tougher means getting a lot of rebounds and loose balls in your area. We have a lot of big guys that can rebound, but just getting those balls that are in your area.”
Question: Were you ready for the extended playing time you got Sunday in the win over Old Dominion because Anthony Davis fouled out?
Wiltjer: “You have to always be ready to play. With people in foul trouble you especially have to be ready. I’m just always going to be ready for when Coach calls my name.”
Question: Did you learn more about yourself against Old Dominion?
Wiltjer: “Most definitely, watching film from that game we definitely learned the stuff we need to work on. They showed a lot of zone so I’m guessing coach is going to work on zone offense a lot now. The thing we did better in the second half of that game was attacking the gaps in the zone and not settling for jump shots. It definitely shows us what to work on and it was a good game for us to play because it really showed we have a will to win, even though it was close we still pulled out the win.”
Question: Do you expect more teams to try to slow the pace like Old Dominion did?
Wiltjer: “We have to be ready for all sorts of things. When people don’t think they can match up with us we will see all sorts of defenses. So just being ready against all sorts of zones and matchups like that. Just working every day in practice to be prepared for that.”
Question: Is it hard to adjust to your minutes on the court fluctuating so much early in the season?
Wiltjer: “I was fine with it, I just try to stay positive and work hard every day in practice. I don’t even worry about my minutes. I just worry about the team winning and we got the wins so I was happy.”
Question: Are you trying to rebound more?
Wiltjer: “I am just trying to show Coach the things he wants to see. That and the defensive end has been the main focus on me most days, so I am just working to get better in those areas. The thing Coach wants to see is progress and I¿have definitely shown the effort in the last couple of games. I just have to show the things he wants. Just do the positive things. Take a charge. Little things like that. Coach wants to see us working and doing things he is asking us to do.”
Question: Are you surprised he’s asking you to do those things?
Wiltjer: “That is the one of the main things you have to do as a big guy. It’s tougher playing defense at this level. The guys are bigger and stronger. You just have to know where you are on the court so you can help play good team defense. Guys have my back, especially when you have a tremendous shot blocker like Anthony (Davis). That helps us a lot. Coach just emphasizes angles, getting a hand on the ball. Things like th at.”
Question: Did you have to play defense in high school?
Wiltjer: “You had to worry about it.¿I actually had a really good defensive school. We worked a lot on one-on-one defense, but getting used to the college level is a different experience.”
Question: Does it feel good to have a home game against Radford tonight after being in New York and Connecticut for three games?
Wiltjer: “It is always good to be back in Lex, back at home. It kind of gets our feet under us and glad to be here to practice more.”
Question: Has your diet or body changed much since you have been in Lexington?
Wiltjer: “I get in the weight room with coaches. We have team meals. A more balanced diet and stuff like that. Protein shakes after practice. Even though we run, we still don’t want to lose that weight. Just an adjustment at the college level that has been fun.”
Question: Did having mononucleosis during the summer set you back on your weight or strength?
Wiltjer: “It was only about three or four weeks, so it really didn’t hinder my progress at all. I did not lose any weight because we have great food here. I worked with the coaches a lot and when I¿got back I did a lot of conditioning and stuff like that. It really didn’t hurt me at all.”
Question: What does senior Darius Miller mean to this team on and off the court?
Wiltjer: “We look at him as a leader. He has been here four years and done this and done that. Having experience like that along with the sophomores (Jones and Doron Lamb) who played in the (NCAA) tournament last year, just gives us great experience and people we can look up to and show us what to do.”
Question: Do you appreciate Miller’s overall play more now than when you just watched him on TV?
Wiltjer: “Most definitely. Witnessing it first hand is a lot better than watching it on TV because you don’t get to watch the behind the scenes stuff like practice. Just seeing those guys work every day in practice and how hard they work really shows their leadership and he definitely is our leader.”