Saturday’s noon matchup with Penn was an important game for a young Kentucky Wildcats team to reel things back in after a week of practice.
Coming off an inexplicable loss to UNC Wilmington last Saturday, you would have liked to see the Cats come out with more energy than what we saw in the first half in Philadelphia.
The game was a bit of a snoozer through 20 minutes despite Kentucky leading 39-29. The contest never got into much of a flow, but there were several positives aside from the 10-point lead.
Aaron Bradshaw made his presence felt early and often tallying nine points and seven boards at the break. Even in his moments of opportunity, he was still applying tenacious pressure on both ends of the floor.
DJ Wagner returning to the lineup and overall looking healthy was an important as anything. He’d log 4 points on 2/4 shooting in the first half to go along with a couple of assists.
Half number two things got dicey from the jump. Penn’s offense began to carve up the Cats.
What was once a 16-point lead tanked down to just one point as no answers were to be found defensively. An impressive 3-pointer from the 7-footer Aaron Bradshaw gave UK some breathing room 54-49.
The importance of DJ Wagner began to shine through as the second half progressed. The freshman did what he always does and relentlessly attacked the basket, creating an opportunity for himself and his teammates. In large part due to Wagner’s efforts, Kentucky was able to gain control defensively as well.
It was ugly at times, but in a weird way, it was impressive to see the UK struggle all day long but make enough adjustments to pull away before the final result ever became too close for comfort.
After the game, head coach John Calipari, along with Bradshaw and Wagner, met with the media to discuss win No. 7 for the Cats. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.
And here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK.
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky never trailed in this game, but a stubborn Penn squad kept it close for much of the contest before the Wildcats put away the Malone’s Classic, 81-66.
- Kentucky is 7-2 on the season, Penn is 6-5.
- Kentucky leads the series 6-0, including 2-0 in games played in Philadelphia.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats have final examinations this week. UK returns to game action Saturday vs. North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic. Played in State Farm Arena in Atlanta, game time is 5:30 p.m. and it will be televised on CBS.
- Key stats for the Wildcats:
- Sparked by 17 points each from Bradshaw and Dillingham, UK won bench scoring 40-5.
- UK won turnovers 15-10 and turned it into a 22-5 advantage in points off TOs.
- UK won the offensive rebounding 13-5, becoming a 16-6 margin in second-chance points.
- The Wildcats won overall rebounding 41-31, tying the largest rebound margin of the season, and UK is 4-0 this season when leading the boardwork.
- Kentucky had 16 assists and 10 turnovers.
- UK entered the game first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (+2.29) and sixth in assists per game (20).
- Kentucky led by as many as 17 points. UK is 335-15 (95.7%) in the Calipari era when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest.
- Playing in his second game, Aaron Bradshaw notched his first double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He made his first 3-pointer and also had three blocked shots.
- Rob Dillingham had 17 points and has scored double figures in all but one game this season.
- Antonio Reeves had 16 points and has scored double figures in every game this season.
- Has made a 3-pointer in 20 consecutive games, longest streak since Kellan Grady had a 21-game stretch in the 2021-22 season.
- D.J. Wagner returned to action after missing the UNCW game because of injury. Playing 30 minutes, he assembled nine points and a game-high seven assists.
- Season-long streaks kept alive – Tre Mitchell had nine rebounds, at least four in every game, and Reed Sheppard had three steals, at least two in every game.
Coach John Calipari
- Calipari has an 839-255 (76.7%) all-time on-court record, including 394-115 (77.4%) at Kentucky.
- Calipari is 324-65 (83.3%) at UK against unranked competition.
- Calipari is 4-0 vs. Penn.
In the First Half
- Kentucky started D.J. Wagner, Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, Adou Thiero and Tre Mitchell. UK is 6-1 with this lineup.
- Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard were UK’s first substitutions with 16:33 remaining.
- Kentucky never trailed in the game. Tied at 2 and then again at 5, Edwards hit a jumper with 16:51 on the clock to put the Cats ahead for good.
- Ahead 23-21, a 16-2 UK run gave the Wildcats their largest lead of the half at 39-23.
- Penn closed with the final six points of the half, making the intermission score 39-29.
- All eight Wildcats scored in the first half, paced by nine points and seven rebounds from Aaron Bradshaw.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky began the second half with the starting lineup.
- Penn extended its run to 13-2, cutting the margin to 41-36 and drawing a Wildcat timeout at 18:28.
- After the timeout, Penn continued the surge, narrowing it to 47-46 – all totaled a 23-8 run by the Quakers.
- Dillingham steadied the Wildcats with a pair of free throws and a fast-break dunk.
- Ahead 61-57, a 9-0 Kentucky spurt pushed the lead to 13 and the Wildcats led by double digits the rest of the way.