Date story was published: Sunday, November 25, 1990
Kentucky opened its 1990-91 season last night with a 23-point victory over Penn.
The Cats won 85-62 and could have amassed a larger margin had Coach Rick Pitino been so inclined.
Still, as Pitino predicted Friday, the Kentucky dominance of old will have to wait for the future.
"Now, we get into a very tough part of the schedule -- the rest of the schedule," Pitino said after UK did its duty by beating outmanned Penn.
The press, not ideally suited for UK's less-than-speedy players, got credit for the victory.
"Without the press, we're just an average team," Pitino said. "The press camouflages a lot of weaknesses."
UK's effort, Pitino said, was good. "But we're very limited," he said. "We're playing a defense that's a defense for down the road. We should be basically a zone team. We're very slow laterally. We got beat all the time. By a team we shouldn't get beat by. We should be quicker than them."
Even with that handicap, Pitino could call off the press to spare Penn embarrassment.
"It's tough enough coming to Rupp," Pitino said. "I don't want them to think we're going for a score. Their kids worked very, very hard. Not in any way did we want to embarrass them."
In his post-game news conference, Penn Coach Fran Dunphy thanked Pitino for the merciful move.
"I certainly appreciate him taking the press off," Dunphy said. "I hope we are not going to face as much pressure -- both in the basketball sense and atmosphere-type pressure -- than what presented itself here."
Pitino also substituted liberally in another attempt to dilute his team's obvious superiority. Every player but Johnathon Davis got into the first half. Normally, Pitino said, he would use a nine- or 10-man rotation.
The frequent substitution led to a lack of cohesion.
"I was more concerned that everybody play," Pitino said. "Penn gave such effort. I wanted their kids to feel good about themselves."
The substitution also helped six Wildcats score in double figures. Reggie Hanson led with 15. Freshman Jamal Mashburn, John Pelphrey, Jeff Brassow and Richie Farmer had 12 points apiece. Another freshman, Gimel Martinez, added 10.
It took awhile, but Kentucky put Penn in a deep, dark hole by halftime.
The Cats took a 38-20 lead into the locker room, built with discombobulating defense and better shooting late in the half.
Eight minutes into the game, Penn had missed eight of 11 shots and committed six turnovers.
Yet, UK led only 8-7, thanks to its own poor shooting (two of 11). The misses included Kentucky's first six three-point attempts.
Brassow, the winner of a pre-season long competition for the starting two- guard position, broke the spell. Brassow hit a three-pointer with 11:09 left, beginning a 12-0 run that gave UK a 20-7 lead.
"Coming out in the first game, everybody was trying too hard," Brassow said of the early misfires. "Once we relaxed, the shots started falling."
UK made 10 of its final 24 three-point attempts.
The lead grew to as much as 22 points twice late in the half.
UK's press -- and Penn's inability to handle it -- helped the Cats take a commanding lead.
Penn paid a high price for its 15 first-half turnovers. UK outscored the Quakers 24-4 in points produced by turnovers.
Penn forward Ray Marshall twice called timeouts to beat UK's press, once when he could not inbound the ball and once when he could not get across the 10-second line. The Quakers were also guilty of a 10-second violation and two five-second violations.
"Being down one point was what I expected," said Penn's Paul McMahon, who led the Quakers with 15 points. "That was what I expected the whole game. I wasn't surprised a bit. I think the pressure got to us a little bit. We just made a few stupid turnovers that got momemtum going their way. That got the crowd more into the game and that pushed the momemtum toward them."
Penn played on the brink of a turnover most of the night. Occasioinally, the fresh-faced, throwback-to-the-1950s Quakers beat the press with a baseball pass. Otherwise, Penn seemed on course to commit the most turnovers against a Pitino-coached UK team. Georgia committed 33 at Rupp Arena last February. Penn ended with 21 turnovers.
Kentucky's lead shrunk to 48-33 early in the second half.
Then UK went on a 17-4 run to open up a 65-35 lead.
Three-point shooting and a Mashburn dunk highlighted the run. Farmer hit a pair of three-pointers early in the run. Pelphrey sandwiched three-pointers around a Mashburn dunk.
Mashburn took an inbounds pass and one-stepped to the basket for a dunk.
The Pelphrey three-pointers and Mashburn's dunk gave Kentucky a 64-35 lead.
Farmer's free throw completed the run, giving UK a 65-35 lead with 10:39 left. That was the Cats' largest lead.
That UK took 30 shots from outside the three-point line and 25 inside did not bother Pitino.
"We had 29 real good 'threes,' " the UK coach said. "That's a great sign when you can take good 'threes.' Last year, we did not. Tonight, we took good ones. And they'll fall because we're a good shooting team."