Kentucky’s history in Philadelphia (and why this game isn’t in the Palestra)


On Saturday, Kentucky Basketball faces Penn in Philadelphia, the sixth meeting between the two programs and the Cats’ 18th game all-time in the City of Brotherly Love. The event, which is being billed as the Malone’s Classic presented by Campbell’s, will take place at the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia 76ers’ arena, instead of the Palestra, Penn’s famous home court.

Why? A fan actually asked John Calipari on Monday night’s call-in show. Cal didn’t say it directly, but clearly, the appeal of a semi-neutral site game at an NBA arena won out over a true home game for the Quakers in the 96-year-old “Cathedral of College Basketball.”

“Yeah, [I considered it] for about two seconds,” Calipari quipped of playing in the Palestra. “I’ve coached in the Palestra. Matter of fact, my teams, I’m not sure we’ve ever lost in the Palestra — we lost one game and we got robbed, absolutely robbed. But the conference tournament when I was in the Atlantic 10, we played in the Palestra for a while.”

Calipari said the Palestra is so old the chalkboards aren’t even functional, which is why he started bringing whiteboards with him on the road to games.

“The building’s like 90 years old. So you go to the locker room and they’ve got a chalkboard in each locker room. It’s so old, it doesn’t hold chalk. So you had to do that around the edges of your scouting report so that’s when I started bringing boards with me because of that.”

And that’s just the locker rooms! Don’t get him started on the rest of the arena.

“Now, those rims in that building are like sewers; all you’ve got to do is throw it up and they go in. You have knees in your back — and they’re not your people. You sit down, the row behind you, you got knees in your back. But you know what? Love the school. Love Philadelphia.”

Instead, Kentucky opted for more luxurious digs at the Wells Fargo Center, which, judging by the Ticketmaster map, might be mostly empty on Saturday. Regardless, the Cats will get to play in an NBA arena and practice in the 76ers facility, which should be a cool experience, especially for Philadelphia-area natives Justin Edwards, DJ Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw, and Kareem Watkins.

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Philly home to some brutal NCAA Tournament losses

Kentucky is 11-6 all-time in Philadelphia. The Cats have played in the Palestra six times, once against Penn, a 102-78 Kentucky victory in 1968. The most famous Kentucky Basketball game in Philadelphia is one we’d all love to forget but are reminded of each March: the overtime loss to Duke in the 1992 East Regional Finals. “The Shot” took place in the Spectrum, the home arena for the Flyers and the 76ers before the building now known as the Wells Fargo Center was built. The Spectrum was torn down in May 2011; sadly, memories of the 1992 loss to Duke and Christian Laettner still remain.

Kentucky has played three NCAA Tournament games in Philadelphia during the 2000s. In 2001, Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, and the Cats lost to Southern Cal in the East Region semifinals. Five years later, the 2005-06 Kentucky team starring Rajon Rondo, Patrick Sparks, and Randolph Morris beat UAB in the first round then lost to UConn in the second round. Bobby Perry had 20 points in that game and Joe Crawford zero.

The City of Brotherly Love has not been kind to the Cats, at least not recently. Saturday is only a regular season game, but coming off the loss to UNC Wilmington at home, the stakes feel high. Add in the homecoming factor for several Cats, and Kentucky could use some happy memories in Philly. Fingers crossed.

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