LEXINGTON, Ky. – Coach Jimmy Patsos got a firsthand experience of third-ranked Kentucky's athleticism. It nearly hit him.
Reserve Kyle Wiltjer scored a personal-best 24 points and a trio of freshmen sparked Kentucky's 17-2 second-half run to beat Loyola (Md.) 87-63 on Thursday for the Wildcats' 42nd straight win at home.
Freshmen Wiltjer, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all had afternoons to remember as Kentucky (11-1) heads into a five-day break before the schedule begins to ramp up.
Kidd-Glichrist had 15 points and seven rebounds and Davis contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, one of which nearly took out the coach.
"I almost got hit in the head when he blocked one of my kid's shots," Patsos said. "Their length and the Gilchrist kid is better than I thought. He's not flashy. He just drives the ball. I was wrong on him. I thought we'd be able to have an advantage on that matchup, but we didn't. He makes a lot of little plays."
Baltimore-based Loyola (8-3) stayed close throughout the first half and pestered Kentucky, which was missing preseason All-American Terrence Jones for the second straight game after he dislocated the pinky finger on his left, shooting hand on Saturday.
Erik Etherly scored 14 points, Dylon Cormier 13 and Justin Drummond had 10 points for the Greyhounds.
With the Christmas break at hand, Kentucky needed to work a little harder than expected after Etherly cut the lead to 45-41 with the first basket of the second half before Kentucky began pulling away.
"It shows that we can play with them," Cormier said. "If we can play with them, then at the mid-major level we should be something to be reckoned with."
Loyola's longest winning streak since joining Division I in 1981-82 ended at eight at St. Bonaventure on Sunday, and while the Greyhounds hadn't played an SEC opponent in 28 years, they weren't intimidated by the Rupp Arena crowd.
The Greyhounds only led once at 2-0, but stayed close and even showed some swagger of their own, with Cormier doing his own "3-goggles" salute after hitting a long-range shot midway through the first half.
After a 6-0 run gave Kentucky its first double-digit lead at 33-23, Loyola answered with an 8-0 run that was capped when the Greyhounds stripped Marquis Teague in a halfcourt trap and Etherly finished an alley-oop pass from Robert Olson on the break.
Etherly went right at Davis, one of the top freshmen in the country, when he beat Wiltjer on the dribble and Davis couldn't rotate over to block Etherly's emphatic dunk. Loyola trailed 45-39 at halftime.
The good feelings wouldn't carry over. After Loyola scored the first basket of the second half, Kentucky tightened up its pressure to pull away.
After a timeout early in the second half, Etherly scored to cut it to eight, but Kidd-Gilchrist and Wiltjer sparked the 17-2 run. A basket by Wiltjer and a dunk by Eloy Vargas made it 73-50 as Loyola went 5:17 without a point because of Kentucky's throttling defense.
On one play, Davis crossed the lane and swatted J'hared Hall's layup attempt for his third block of the game that nearly hit Patsos. Davis has 52 blocks, on pace to easily break the school's season-single record of 83.
"It's always in the back of your mind when he's down there," Etherly said. "I don't think he gets enough credit. He affects a lot of shots even if he doesn't block them."