LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kyle Wiltjer hit seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points, Alex Poythress added a career-high 22 and No. 3 Kentucky routed Lafayette 101-49 in its home opener Friday night.
The Wildcats shot 65 percent (40 for 62) from the field, including 11 of 19 shooting from 3-point range, and Wiltjer set the tone by hitting his first two to open the game. He finished 7 of 11 from behind the arc, including 5 of 8 in the second half.
“We’re not a 58 percent 3-point shooting team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We’re more like a 40 percent team.”
Poythress followed up his 20-point effort in Tuesday night’s 75-68 loss to No. 9 Duke by hitting nine of 10 shots and grabbing five rebounds. That led a good night for Kentucky’s heralded freshmen class as Nerlens Noel added 15 points, Willie Cauley-Stein 14 and Archie Goodwin 13.
The Wildcats (2-1) won their fourth home opener under Calipari and 10th in the past 11 seasons. They also improved to 9-1 against the Patriot League.
Tony Johnson scored 13 points for Lafayette (1-2), which lost leading scorer Dan Trist to a sprained ankle during the morning shootaround.
Graduate transfer Julius Mays had 10 of the Wildcats’ season-best 23 assists.
The win opened a three-game homestand for Kentucky, which was coming off a fairly solid effort against Duke. The Wildcats shot 49 percent in that game, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range, and were nearly even on rebounds (31-30) against a veteran Blue Devils squad.
And the confidence gained from cutting a 14-point deficit to three before losing carried over against Lafayette, which was playing its first ranked opponent since an 86-41 loss to No. 6 Villanova on Nov. 20, 2010.
The Wildcats came out hot, hitting their first five shots and six of seven overall. Wiltjer started it with consecutive 3-pointers, Mays added one of his own and Kentucky was on its way to its best first half this season.
The Wildcats ended up hitting their first five 3-point attempts and six of eight to highlight a 20-of-31 shooting (65 percent) effort in the first half. Their previous best was 58 percent in the opener against Maryland.
More pleasing to Calipari was how well his seven-man rotation spread the ball around. Everybody scored, with Poythress muscling inside for 12 points, Noel adding nine and Cauley-Stein and Wiltjer eight each.
Despite starting without their best scorer, the Leopards were unfazed by height and talent disadvantages and stayed close for a moment. Levi Giese and Joey Ptasinski both sank 3-pointers, Alan Flannigan got an inside basket and Tony Johnson another off a Noel goaltending call.
That made it 15-10 but it was all Kentucky after that. A 7-2 spurt was followed by 15 unanswered points over a 3:34 span for a 37-12 lead. Lafayette rarely got closer than 20.
With their tallest player being 6-foot-10 Ben Freeland, there was little the Leopards were going to do against the Wildcats’ inside duo of 6-10 Noel and 7-foot Cauley-Stein to begin with. And other than a couple of sloppy stretches by Kentucky, Lafayette struggled to keep up athletically.
Losing Trist made things even tougher. He scored a career-high 30 points to lead Lafayette’s 98-94 overtime win over LIU-Brooklyn on Monday and was expected to counter some of Kentucky’s scoring.
His presence might not have helped the Leopards, who shot just 40 percent and committed 28 turnovers.
From there it became a series of highlight-reel plays, including a thunderous flying dunk by Goodwin that brought a roar from the Rupp Arena crowd of 21,360. They quickly turned to boos as he was called for an offensive foul.
It didn’t matter with the Wildcats outscoring the Leopards 50-18 in the second half.