Kentucky bounced back from one upset loss by avoiding another Saturday afternoon.
The No. 16-ranked Wildcats defeated the Penn Quakers 81-66 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the team’s first game since being upset in Rupp Arena by underdog UNC Wilmington last weekend.
Like UNCW, the Quakers came into the day as double-digit underdogs before putting a scare into the Cats in the second half. This time, Kentucky came out on top.
Freshman 7-footer Aaron Bradshaw — playing in his second college basketball game — led the Wildcats with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 29 minutes off the bench. He made his debut in last weekend’s loss to UNC Wilmington after missing the first seven games with a foot injury, playing 13 minutes that day.
D.J. Wagner returned for Saturday’s game — he missed the UNCW loss with an ankle injury — and had nine points and a team-high seven assists. Bradshaw and Wagner were star teammates for Camden High School, located right across the river from Philadelphia.
Rob Dillingham scored 17 points, and Antonio Reeves had 16.
Kentucky led by as many as 16 points in the first half before Penn made three baskets in the final 65 seconds before the break, sending UK to halftime with a 39-29 advantage.
From there, the Quakers made things interesting.
Penn made its first six shots of the second half — three of them were 3-pointers — and narrowed Kentucky’s lead to 47-46 less than five minutes after halftime. The Cats were able to send that advantage back to 10 points — going up 61-51 on a corner 3-pointer from Wagner, bringing out one of the biggest cheers of the day — but back-to-back 3s from Penn over a span of 34 seconds cut that lead back to four and led John Calipari to call a timeout.
That’s as close as the Quakers would get. Kentucky went on a 9-0 run from there, and Penn never got back within 11 points of the Wildcats.
Penn came into the game shooting 41.5% on 3-pointers — good enough for sixth nationally — and averaging 10.2 made 3s per game. In the Quakers’ previous game — a 111-57 win over Division III opponent FDU Florham on Wednesday — they made 21 of 34 from 3-point range.
The Quakers (6-5) were just 2-for-12 from deep in the first half, but it was the long ball that helped them get back into the game after halftime. They finished the day at 9-for-28 on 3s.
Kentucky (7-2) outrebounded Penn 41-31— a point of emphasis for the Cats in practice over the past week — but UK’s defense was once again inconsistent Saturday, though the Wildcats did manage nine steals, and Bradshaw’s presence gave UK a threat around the rim on that side of the court.
The Wells Fargo Center — with a capacity of 21,000 — was nowhere near filled, but a majority of the crowd ended up being in UK’s corner. Blue and white Kentucky gear dominated the stands, despite the game being played about five miles from hometown Penn’s campus.
Maxey and Quickley show up
Two former Kentucky basketball standouts were sitting courtside Saturday afternoon.
John Calipari said earlier in the week that he expected Philadelphia 76ers star Tyrese Maxey to be at the game, and the 23-year-old was right there at center court for the noon tipoff. He scored 30 points in a win over the Hawks at Wells Fargo Center on Friday night.
Toward the end of the first half, New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley walked down the sideline and gave his former UK teammate a big hug. Quickley and Maxey shared the UK backcourt during the 2019-20 season, leading the Wildcats to the SEC regular-season championship before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the college basketball postseason.
Maxey is averaging 27.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game this season. Quickley is averaging 15.0 points and 2.8 assists per game off the bench for the Knicks.
Kentucky-North Carolina is next
The Wildcats will have another week off before a blue blood battle with No. 9-ranked North Carolina on Saturday in Atlanta for the CBS Sports Classic. (Set for 5:30 p.m. on CBS.)
The Tar Heels will take a 7-2 record into Saturday’s clash. UNC lost 87-76 to No. 5 UConn in its last outing Tuesday and will not play again until the matchup with UK, giving the Heels nearly two weeks off between games.
North Carolina already has an 87-72 victory over Arkansas and a 100-92 win over Tennessee on its early season résumé. A team with several college basketball veterans, the Heels are led in scoring by senior guard RJ Davis with 21.0 points per game, while preseason All-American big man Armando Bacot is averaging 15.9 points and 11.9 rebounds.
John Calipari has a 6-4 record against UNC as UK’s head coach. UNC leads the all-time series between the two blue bloods 25-17.