UK Men's Basketball

UK breaks away from Penn for 86-62 win

Brandon Knight scored on Penn's Tyler Bernardini Monday night in Rupp Arena. Knight led the Wildcats' scoring with 22 points.
Brandon Knight scored on Penn's Tyler Bernardini Monday night in Rupp Arena. Knight led the Wildcats' scoring with 22 points.

After his team lost 86-62 to Kentucky, Penn Coach Jerome Allen had a message for the assembled media. "Kentucky, the University of Pennsylvania and a couple other schools out there are in the top 10 all-time wins in Division I basketball," he said, "whether you know that or not."

That was Allen's way of saying Penn, which is 10th on the list, came to bury college basketball's blue-clad Caesar on Monday night.

So when a reporter later asked guard Tyler Bernardini if Penn's 12-point leads in the first half sent visions of an upset dancing in the Quakers' collective mind, Allen could not resist injecting himself into the answer.

"Yes," he said. "No question."

Bernardini echoed the sentiment. "We felt like on the bus here that we were coming to win," he said. "We weren't coming to play a game (or) entertain the fans."

Penn's three-point shooting and what Darius Miller called a "sluggish" start for Kentucky made such an outcome plausible. Then UK rode a fast finish in the first half into second-half domination in this final tune-up for Southeastern Conference play.

Making eight of its first 10 three-point shots, Penn not only hung with Kentucky but led the first 18 minutes. The zenith (or depths from UK's perspective) came with Penn leading 29-17 and 31-19.

"They controlled the whole half," UK Coach John Calipari said. "We were lucky we were not down 10 at halftime. They were executing, making shots. We weren't aggressive enough going after balls. They were comfortable."

Penn, 5-6, got uncomfortable as Kentucky scored the final 12 points of the first half to avoid the first halftime deficit since playing Connecticut on Maui. UK tacked on the first four points of the second and seemed poised to pull away.

By making 18 of 22 second-half shots, Kentucky breezed to its 12th victory in 14 games.

Although Penn could get off only two three-point attempts in the final 17:56, Allen cited the visitors' lack of defense as the deciding factor.

"All the time, I tell them made or missed shots are here and there," the Penn coach said. "You want to be consistent with the defensive effort. In the second half, we didn't put defensive stops together."

Brandon Knight led UK with 22 points. Doron Lamb scored 16, while Josh Harrellson contributed his second straight double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and chipped in a career-high six blocks.

Bernardini, who came into the game averaging 7.7 points, led Penn with a season-high 22. Point guard Zack Rosen's six points marked only the second time in the last 37 games he failed to crack double digits.

Bernardini paced Penn's early shooting by making three of four en route to a 16-point first half. Penn had made fewer than seven three-pointers in six of its 10 games, and only once made more. Bernardini came into the game having made only eight of 43 attempts (18.6 percent).

That the sharpshooting came against a Kentucky team that had led the SEC in three-point defense (29.1 percent accuracy by opponents) made it all the more surprising.

When Miles Cartwright hit from the corner to put Penn ahead 17-10, Calipari called time and swung his fist as if Tiny Tim tried to throw a haymaker at Tim Duncan.

"The first half, we left corners, which we never do," he said. "We just left guys in corners. We don't leave corner shooters. ... But we gave them, I think, four first-half looks in the corner with no one on (the shooter). We left them. And I was going bananas."

After a Bernardini free throw, Kentucky went on its 12-0 run to finish the half. A three-point play by Lamb, which marked UK's only fast-break points in the half, helped ignite the rally.

Harrellson kept Kentucky afloat earlier with offensive rebounds. He had seven in the first half. Overall, Kentucky outrebounded Penn 37-17.

Allen said Kentucky's run late in the first half was pivotal.

"I felt like the balance of the youth that they have ... we had them right where we wanted them: on the ropes," the Penn coach said. "You never know. A team playing at home and a lot of pressure. Brandon Knight is a phenomenal basketball player. But he's still a freshman."

When asked if Kentucky pulling away showed that his freshman-oriented team had become rattle-proof, Calipari shook his head.

"No," he said. "We are what we are. This is who we are."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader