Kentucky Basketball: Struggling Players Who Must Step Up for Wildcats

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2012

Dec 4, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33), guard Archie Goodwin (10), forward Nerlens Noel (3), guard Julius Mays (34) and forward Alex Poythress (22) talk during a time out in the game against the Samford Bulldogs at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Samford 88-56. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it didn't take long for John Calipari to be reminded of how difficult going 38-2 truly is.

The defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats entered the season ranked third in the country despite losing a handful of talent to the NBA this past summer. But after three losses in six games, Kentucky finds itself out of the AP Top 25 with five non-conference games still left to play.  

So, what must happen for the Wildcats to turn their season around?

Let's take a look at a trio of key players that must step up their games for Kentucky in 2012-13.

Alex Poythress

Freshman forward Alex Poythress has the body (6'7", 239 pounds) to be a tremendous college basketball player right now, but it seems his inexperience and indecisiveness at times is costing him. 

 He is averaging three turnovers in just over 29 minutes per game this season. Only point guard Archie Goodwin has a higher average for Kentucky this year. Poythress combined for eight turnovers in the Wildcats' back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor.

Sure, the young forward is shooting a high percent from the field in 2012-13, but his turnover rate is far too high and is the result of timid or unsure play.

Unless Poythress becomes more assertive on the offensive end, him not reaching his potential will only continue to hold Kentucky back as it progresses into its conference schedule this January. 

Kyle Wiltjer

Based on how quickly most Kentucky players make the jump from college basketball to the NBA, sophomore Kyle Wiltjer can almost be considered a senior for John Calipari's squad in 2012-13.

The 6'10" forward provided the Wildcats with 43.2 three-point shooting in 2011-12 but is only hitting 34.8 percent of his long-range shots (16-for-46) this season. Yes, Wiltjer is averaging twice as many points this season as he did last, but his minutes have also more than doubled from last season.

Wiltjer must continue to search for his rhythm on his outside shot while becoming slightly more aggressive on the boards and on the inside.

He's only averaging 4.4 rebounds per game this season and has just five blocks in eight games.

Julius Mays

One of only two seniors on Kentucky's roster this season, Wright State transfer Julius Mays is the Wildcats' fifth-leading scorer in eight games this season.

Still, the former Wright State and North Carolina State guard is shooting just 41.3 percent from the field in 2012-13 and is just 15-for-39 from beyond the three-point line this season. Mays was just 2-for-8 from deep in Kentucky's most recent loss to Baylor.

As a senior and one of the most experienced players on Kentucky's roster this season, it's imperative that Mays work to become a player who leads by example.

Whether its making shots or taking higher-percentage ones, Mays can certainly improve his game from now until the end of season and must if the Wildcats are going to be successful in the long run.

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