The first half was a little too close for comfort, but in the end, Kentucky pulled away with an 87-63 victory over Loyola. Most of the players are now on airplanes on their way home for Christmas break — I know Doron Lamb had a 4:30 p.m. flight to New York — and we hope they all have safe travels. The Cats will get a couple days off to spend with their families and then it’s back to Lexington on Monday to get ready for Wednesday’s game against Lamar.
Let’s talk about the victory and what it means in the grand scheme of things:
— Loyola kept it interesting in the first half as they hung tight with the Cats all the way to the break. Kentucky was just 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first half while the Greyhounds knocked down three 3-pointers in the first five minutes. Two early fouls sent Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the bench early and the Cats went to the locker room with just a six-point lead. The first half was closed out with a pretty nasty dunk by Loyola’s Erik Etherly over Anthony Davis. Etherly drove the lane and and got one over Davis’ stretched out arm and drew the foul. #AnthonyDavisStillSaysShutUp
— The second half, however, was a completely different story. With Loyola already in foul trouble — two starters with four fouls early in the second half — Kentucky put it on them for the rest of the game. Loyola’s Robert Olson, who had nine first half points, fouled out with over 15 minutes left in the game. Loyola committed 25 fouls in the game as a team.
— If you had Kyle Wiltjer as Kentucky’s leading scorer, go to the H.R. Department and collect your prize. Wiltjer led the way with a career-high 24 points in 25 minutes. He was 7-of-11 from the field, including 3-of-6 on on three-point attempts. While Wiltjer’s scoring and hot shooting spread the Loyola defense out, his defense continues to be a liability on the other end. After the game, Calipari said he has to find a defensive scheme that works for Wiltjer because there are certain matchups he’s not ready for. He doesn’t expect Wiltjer to block shots, but he does want to see the young man take more charges and box out. It wasn’t all negative reaction to Wiltjer’s game, though; Cal praised his toughness and heart and said the team will need him in the game at times for scoring. They just need to get him active on the defensive end. I asked people on the live blog how many points they thought Loyola scored in the first half on Wiltjer alone and the general consensus was about five or six buckets. That can’t happen.
— While Wiltjer struggled on D and on the boards, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis played great games. Davis had 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks to MKG’s 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Calipari had nothing but good things to say about those two after the game, saying they were the only guys on the floor who were even trying to rebound. He admitted to being all over his players for their lack of aggression, but not once did he go after Davis or Kidd-Gilchrist because they both were playing so well.
— Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s big game was even more impressive considering he had a lot on his mind outside the game of basketball. Cal tweeted before the game that Kidd-Gilchrist’s mother is in the hospital back in New Jersey but it wasn’t serious enough for her son to skip the game. UK has not released any details but keep Michael and his family in your prayers during this holiday season. The poor kid has had a rough life and the last thing he needs is his mother in the hospital over Christmas break.
A few quick hitters:
— Kentucky hit over half of its shots (53.8%) for the seventh time this season.
— Kentucky made 28 of 37 free throws, season highs in both categories.
— Darius Miller’s 13 points were his third straight game in double-figures.
— UK didn’t hit a 3-pointer until Wiltjer knocked one down with 17 minutes left in the game. That sent Kentucky on a 22-4 run that gave Kentucky a 23-point lead.
We’ll have more on the game throughout the evening. Go Cats…