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January 20, 2013AUBURN, Ala. - Kyle Wiltjer knew to stay put.
The public-address announcer at Auburn Arena announced Wiltjer's name as a starter Saturday night, but the Kentucky forward stayed right where he was as Julius Mays took the court with the starting five.
"I knew I wasn't starting, so I just thought it was funny," Wiltjer said after the Wildcats' 75-53 win.
It's unclear what caused the mix-up. A UK spokesman said before the game that as of the pregame shootaround Kentucky planned to start Mays, shifting to a smaller lineup in the absence of freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who missed the game with a knee injury.
But Auburn's online stats system showed Wiltjer in the lineup prior to the game, and Wiltjer was introduced, though Mays always was John Calipari's intended starter.
"(Wiltjer) knew he wasn't starting," Calipari said. "When I heard it, I went to the official and said, 'I don't know what this (PA) guy announced, but that's not who's starting.'"
No matter. Once he got in the game, Wiltjer played like a starter.
He scored 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and tied a career high with five assists. When Nerlens Noel went to the bench with first-half foul trouble, Wiltjer helped carry the Cats, who started the half slowly and finished with a flurry.
In UK's past two games, both wins, Wiltjer is averaging 17 points on 12-for-23 shooting. He's made 5-of-12 three-pointers in that span and has averaged 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
That's come on the heels of Calipari criticizing Wiltjer's defense and his lack of offensive versatility. Wiltjer has responded.
"Our whole thing was we're getting it to the middle to him and let him make plays, and he did it (against Auburn)," Calipari said. "But he's also now coming up with rebounds. He's not accepting that he can't get the ball. So now, even if he misses a shot or two, it's fine; you leave him in. He's playing better. He wants it. He's playing more aggressive; there's no tentativeness to his game, and that's how I want him to play."
Feet on the ground
Though foul trouble limited Noel to 11 minutes in the first half and 25 minutes overall, UK's freshman forward stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Auburn center Rob Chubb gave high praise to Noel after the game, saying he's "about the same player" as former Wildcat Anthony Davis, who set an NCAA freshman record with 186 blocked shots last season.
Davis had 78 blocks through 17 games last season. Noel has 69 through Kentucky's first 17 games this season.
In Southeastern Conference play, Noel is averaging 12.5 points, nine rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game.
And though his statistics are soaring, Noel's keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
Earlier this season, Noel struggled with shot fakes, jumping in an effort to block every shot. It became a point of emphasis for Kentucky.
Kentucky's constant jumping at shot fakes - guards did it, too, Calipari said - was problematic enough that "every team was taking advantage of it," Calipari said.
"So every day that we practice, we do a thing to keep them down on their feet," Calipari said, adding that all his players participate. "And (Noel has) done it. That's part of buying in. Like, 'Don't leave your feet. We're doing these drills, now get in the game and concentrate. Have some discipline.' And he has. And he's still blocking shots. He's blocking more now than he did before when he was leaving his feet."
Still, Noel had four fouls against Auburn. Kentucky can't afford that often.
"We need him to stay out of foul trouble," Calipari said. "We need him on the court . He helps everybody, because you can't just drive now. 'Cause he's back there, and he will block it."
Kentucky, which flew home late Saturday night and will return to Alabama for Tuesday's game against the Crimson Tide, will await word on the status of Cauley-Stein, who had a minor procedure on his left knee last Thursday, the result of a lingering injury that dates back to junior high school.
Calipari hasn't ruled out Cauley-Stein's return for the Alabama game.
"We'll figure out if Willie's playing or not and we'll go from there," Calipari said. "I checked on him today. He was walking around and all that good stuff."