Penn’s Steve Donahue after loss to Kentucky: ‘They’re going to be a terrific team in time’

Penn gave the Kentucky men’s basketball team everything it could handle on Saturday afternoon.

While the Quakers never led in what became an 81-66 win for the Wildcats, Penn repeatedly kept them within reach.

Penn senior guard Clark Slajchert scored 17 points in the loss. He was tied with Kentucky’s Aaron Bradshaw and Rob Dillingham as the game’s leading scorers.

Junior forward Nick Spinoso had 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks for the Quakers, although he had the often unfortunate task of going up against Bradshaw near the basket.

Postgame, Penn head coach Steve Donahue spoke to the media about trying to contain UK’s talented group of freshmen, among other topics.

Here’s everything that Donahue said:

Opening statement:

I thought we played really well for the first 10 minutes of the second half, and I just told (my team) that I think at that point we had 17 assists, 10 turnovers, I felt like we were really playing the type of game that you have to against Kentucky.

And then we just did not play well down the stretch. We gave them free run-outs, and unfortunately when you do it against a team as talented as Kentucky it’s hard to make that up.

They have really good, young, talented players and I told Cal I think they’re going to be a terrific team in time.

Question about scheduling difficult games to prepare for the Ivy League:

You know what my opinion on our schedule is. I just feel (like) when you’re the main guy in this program and it has an incredible history, this is what we recruit to, these events. These kids are excited about today… that’s how we’re going to try and take the next step and build a team that can win a championship and hopefully make a run in the NCAA Tournament.

We’re really young… I don’t think we’re there right now, but I’m hopeful that games like this, come February, that we’re so much better because of it.

Question about four players scoring in double figures:

And two of them are freshmen… We have other kids who I think maybe aren’t exactly ready for this game today, but (who) could really help us in the league, and that’s kind of what this whole preseason is about for us.

Question about how the Kentucky game was scheduled:

A crazy idea by me (laughter) and Josh LaRosa, our associate AD. We went through the negotiations a little bit with Wells Fargo and the Big Five, since they want these events.

I love this building. I think they’ve renovated it, it’s incredible. There’s politics behind another one, but growing up here I love getting off 95 and parking and all those things.

And then they did an incredible job with the building. So would someone like Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky be interested in coming to play a neutral site game, and there’s some NIL stuff behind this, I don’t know the particulars, but you’re allowed to do more at a neutral site.

So we ran up (the idea) to a few teams. I think John Calipari to me, and I’ve known him for all these years, he gets a bad rap about what he’s about.

I think he’s a really good ambassador of our game. He was excited and thought ‘Hey, bring these three local guys back,’ and maybe it’s a win-win for both of us.

I didn’t think it would happen, honestly. The more it came into fruition I was kind of regretting ‘What the heck was I thinking?’ (laughter).

But I’m glad. For us, it’s another really good lesson to help us grow this team, and that’s the way I look at it.

Question about freshmen scoring and how that will help the growth of this Penn team:

We’re going to need Sam Brown and Tyler Perkins. Right now, I think we’re the 12th-best league in the country and we have really good teams, one through eight.

For us to compete for a championship, those two have got to be ready.

These games are hard, but the league is really hard and it’s a different kind of hard. It’s a mentally hard. It’s the smallest league in the country. No one, essentially, transfers. We all know each other’s warts. We know what each other can do.

And you’ve got to be on. You’ve got to be ready, every night. So I think having (Sam and Tyler) play in these environments, have some failure, come back, have some success, (will help them) be ready come January when we play in the league.

Questions about Kentucky’s Aaron Bradshaw:

I’ve seen Aaron play in high school, and I always admired his skill level. And you look at his size and to me that’s a difference-maker for them.

When you watch (Kentucky) on film they’re shooting 3s and they’re playing, but to have someone out there that protects the rim and is that skilled, I think it takes their program to another level.

I thought UNC Wilmington was able to get to the rim and do some things, and today I just thought (Bradshaw’s) presence was a big difference.

You hope he’d have a little more rust than he looked (laughter). As I said, I’ve seen those kids play. They’re just playing basketball. They’re thinking the game. Kids are so much further along than 15, 20 years ago.

They play high-level high school, crazy events, like this didn’t faze him at all, and (Bradshaw’s) a really talented player.

Question about how he prepares to defend against a player like Aaron Bradshaw, who can shoot from distance:

That’s something we talk about, because we have a more traditional big in Nick Spinoso. He’s got to guard… There’s ways around it sometimes. It’s hard to get around it when it’s four McDonald’s All-Americans and you’ve got to navigate that.

But I think we’ll be fine. Our defense is my biggest concern, in general, in our league is guarding better. I thought we took some steps in the last couple games, but it’s got to get better.

Question about the toughness Penn showed by repeatedly coming back from deficits against Kentucky:

We’ve played 11 games. That’s our second game we’ve lost in regulation. We’ve been really close, a lot. And I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball, but they had that in them.

This group has been down a few times, and they just kind of have the right makeup and grit to come back. I was hoping that we were ready to continue to play well through the second half, we’re not there yet.

Our goal is to be there in the next six to eight weeks and play our best basketball.

Question about coaching against John Calipari:

He’s got to get in line. I’ve gotten my ass kicked by Coach K, (Jim) Boeheim, who else is on that list? Huggins (laughter).

As I said, I think in this crazy world of college basketball, I enjoy John and the way he approaches things. It just seems that he cares about the right things.

I played him with a week of prep he had before our 2010 Sweet 16 team (when Donahue was at Cornell), which was a top-10 team in the nation offensively. And I thought he prepared, and they were talented — Cousin, Walls, Bledsoe and all that — but it was the attention to detail I thought he had against our offense that year, that really opened my eyes that he can coach.

There’s a lot of things that you talk about (with) his recruiting and all that, when it comes down to it I do think he can really coach.

Question about Nick Spinoso’s performance:

We need the consistent Nick. When he’s consistent, he’s really good. He’s an elite passer. He made the two foul shots in the first half, he struggles with that.

All those little things, getting better at the foul line, taking care of the ball, but I think he really played well with some incredible athleticism with Aaron. He’s going to have to play well in the league for us to be really good.

Penn men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue (right) greets Kentucky head coach John Calipari prior to Saturday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Penn men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue (right) greets Kentucky head coach John Calipari prior to Saturday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

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