As Kentucky prepares to start the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the biggest question about the Wildcats’ ability to win the national championship seems to center on coach John Calipari’s lack of depth. Or as Calipari notes, the perceived lack of depth.
Calipari feels he has two reserves — senior Darius Miller and freshman Kyle Wiltjer — both capable of scoring 20 or more points. Miller certainly has demonstrated his worth numerous times this year as the team’s sixth man both with his scoring and versatility. However, Wiltjer has started to become more of a presence, too.
He had nine points and went 3 for 4 on 3-point shots against Georgia. He hit another 3-pointer Sunday at Florida. He’s a 40 percent shooter from 3-point range this season and forces opposing teams to extend their defense when Calipari inserts him into the lineup, something he’s indicating he may do more and more.
“I think he’s very valuable to their team. The one advantage Kentucky has over just about everybody across the country is that there’s really not a guy on their team that just doesn’t score,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “You have to honor everybody, and Kyle is somebody that, when he’s in the game, you have to pay attention to him.
“That’s what’s so difficult about their team is that everybody that they play can score the ball, can finish plays and John’s put them in position to really complement each other well. So I think that, as they get into the NCAA tournament, Wiltjer will be very important to them just because you never know when you’re going to need that production from their bench. They certainly have a guy now that’s proven he can do that.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan feels Kentucky’s talented teammates take pressure off Wiltjer, who was limited earlier in the season because of his rebounding and defensive liabilities.
“Wiltjer, I think for him, he really, more than anything else, is a very skilled player who can come into the game, and there is so much offense on the floor that because of (Anthony) Davis and (Terrence) Jones and (Michael Kidd-)Gilchrist that you have to give them, even (Marquis) Teague when he’s got the ball in his hands, that a lot of offense is not so much him creating, it’s the other guys creating and finding him,” Donovan said.
“The game is made very, very easy for him because of the personnel on the floor. He’s given them a guy that can stretch it at the power forward spot. He’s a really good 3-point shooter and he’s skilled and he’s given them another offensive player that doesn’t need to necessarily create for himself, where a lot of plays are being created for him.”
Calipari believes Wilter, who is averaging 5.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, is doing more to help himself and his teammates now than he did earlier this year.
“He’s been playing so much better defensively and rebounding the ball that you can leave him out there. That’s why I’m getting on our team a little bit about subbing themselves. You want to get a rotation going and you want to get guys to come out when they’re a little tired,” Calipari said. “I’m telling Terrence (Jones), ‘The kid deserves more minutes, get your butt off the floor.’
“And then the other thing I may do this week is start figuring out if it’s Terrence, Kyle and Anthony (Davis) on the floor together, how do we play? So I may start doing that this week because the reality of it is the kid deserves more time, except Anthony and Terrence are pretty good. They’re pretty good, so it’s hard unless you play all three of them together. We just haven’t done that that much.
“You talk about our bench, Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer, I need to know who has a better bench than that. We do have a good bench. And I even think Eloy (Vargas) in a pinch will be fine.”