Loyola (Md.) wilts after No. 3 Kentucky’s surge

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.”