Kentucky Closes Down Penn in Non-Conference Finale
Jan. 3, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Penn kept making shots. Kentucky coach John Calipari kept screaming, looking for somebody - anybody - willing to play defense.
Calipari found volunteers in the usual places, and soon enough everything was right again for the 10th-ranked Wildcats.
Buoyed by some stellar defending by DeAndre Liggins and some hot shooting by just about everybody, Kentucky roared past Penn 86-62 on Monday for its seventh straight win.
"I think everybody altogether got it going," said center Josh Harrellson, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. "We just got on a run and never looked back."
Good thing, because the Wildcats (12-2) might not have liked what they saw during the first 15 minutes. Penn (5-6) opened a 12-point lead behind torrid 3-point shooting from Tyler Bernardini and some uncharacteristically relaxed defense by Kentucky.
The Wildcats blew assignments, totally forgot about others and appeared to still be enjoying their easy romp over rival Louisville on Dec. 31.
Calipari did his best to shake his team out of its funk, yanking players for even the smallest infractions in hopes of getting their attention.
"If guys aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing, they are hurting the team," said Kentucky guard Brandon Knight, who led the Wildcats with 22 points. "When he takes a guy out every time he does something wrong, it is helping out team out."
It wasn't until he sent out Liggins to shut down Bernardini that the Wildcats took off. Bernardini finished with 22 points, but 16 of them came in the opening 15 minutes as Penn steadily built a lead. With the 6-foot-6 Liggins swarming him, the open looks Bernardini saw early in the game quickly disappeared.
So too, did Penn's lead.
Kentucky finished the half with a 14-1 run to take a 33-32 lead at the break. The Wildcats were just getting started, hitting 12 of their first 13 shots of the second half to bust it open.
Doron Lamb knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during a game-clinching 15-2 burst that gave the Wildcats a 66-45 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining.
"We knew we just had to dig in," Lamb said. "In a TV timeout, we huddled and we wanted to dig in on defense."
Miles Cartwright added 16 for Penn but the Quakers couldn't keep up when Kentucky hit the gas in the second half. The Wildcats went 18 of 22 (82 percent) in the second half, numbers that could have been even higher if not for a couple of misses in garbage time.
Yet it wasn't quite enough to please Calipari. Kentucky begins Southeastern Conference play on Saturday at Georgia and he knows his team can't afford to sleepwalk through an opening half the way it did against the Quakers.
"If we played in a league game and did this, we're down 15 at the half and it's a struggle," he said. "That's the lesson of this game."
It's a lesson he'll gladly learn in victory, though for a few fleeting moments, Penn did its best to end Kentucky's winning streak at six.
While the Wildcats missed 3-pointers, turned the ball over and struggled to find any kind of rhythm offensively, the Quakers went off.
Running down the clock to slow the game down then drilling jumpers just before the shot clock hit zero, the Quakers built a 31-19 lead behind a steady stream of 3-pointers by Bernardini, who put together his highest scoring game in nearly two years.
"We definitely were really sluggish," said forward Darius Miller. "I don't think we've started that slow in a while. It kind of shocked us and surprised us."
Not Calipari, who yanked freshman forward Terrence Jones for failing to run down a loose ball, leading to a Penn 3-pointer. He sat Miller at the start of the second half because he was concerned about Miller's unwillingness to get in the lane and mix it up.
"It's the importance of every possession, we don't get," he said. "Young kids don't. Experienced players don't."
Miller responded with a strong second half to finish with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Knight, who has been praised by Calipari for learning how to run the team, led Kentucky through 10 offensively flawless minutes to start the second half. He knocked down two 3-pointers early in the half as the Wildcats extended the lead to double-digits.
"We had them right where we wanted them, on the ropes," said Penn coach Jerome Allen. "But ultimately they did what they had to do to win the basketball game."
Kentucky's athleticism eventually wore the Quakers down. During one sequence Lamb chased down a wayward pass in the corner then threw it to Harrellson at the top of the key. As Penn's defense scrambled to get back in position Harrellson flipped the ball to a wide-open Knight, who calmly splashed his fourth 3-pointer of the game and the Wildcats were well on their way to a seventh straight victory.
"We were getting stops, I think that was the key to our offense," Bernardini said. "We were just trying to hold onto that. We just weren't able to for the full 40 minutes."