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Senior guard Clark Slajchert during the Big 5 Tournament matchup against La Salle on Dec. 2. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

The lights will shine bright once again for Penn, as men's basketball will make its way to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday to duke it out against the No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats.

This marks only the second time in program history that Penn (6-4) and Kentucky (6-2) have met. The first time the two squared off, Kentucky won handily by a score of 86-62. But that matchup was almost 13 years ago, and a lot has changed since then for both programs. Penn is now helmed by coach Steve Donahue, who has transformed the program in recent years into an efficiency-based system. Kentucky, meanwhile, managed to win an NCAA championship in 2012, but has struggled to achieve that goal once again despite being considered one of the best programs in college basketball.

The Quakers have certainly had a rocky start to this young season. For every dominant victory like that against Bucknell and John Jay, there have been tough losses such as those to Maryland-Eastern Shore and Belmont. The team's biggest win so far came against Villanova, a remarkable upset that took the Quaker community by storm. But Penn has gone just 2-3 since that magical victory.

On the flip side, Kentucky has managed to play its ever-dominant style of basketball. Kansas and UNC Wilmington remain the Wildcats' only losses this season. 

Penn is coming off of a tough overtime loss to La Salle in the Big 5 Classic, finishing fourth in the inaugural championship tournament. At the same time, Kentucky will be fresh off of its own heartbreaking loss at the hands of UNC Wilmington — a loss that the Quakers can take advantage of as they chase another upset.

A lot will have to go right for the Red and Blue to come out victorious, but the seeds that are needed have already been planted. Penn has been outpacing opponents in rebounds all season, and against a team like Kentucky, it’ll need to continue to crash the glass.

In Kentucky’s losses, they’ve been forced to rely on scorers outside of the team's top players. The Wildcats have six players averaging double-digit points, but it’s still important to limit the opportunities for their top scorers like senior guard Antonio Reeves and freshman guard Rob Dillingham. In the loss to UNC Wilmington, Dillingham was held to two points on 1-9 shooting from the field — the only time he has scored less than 12 points this season. Forcing these players to take tough shots and pushing more looks towards other players will only help the Quakers.

Limiting mistakes will also be key. One of the big reasons why Penn struggled against St. Joe’s earlier this season was due to turnovers and missed shots. The Quakers will need to be smart and efficient, and capitalize as often as they can on Wildcat mistakes, while also managing to limit their own.

While Penn has relied on key players like junior forward Nick Spinoso, senior guard Clark Slajchert, and freshman guard Tyler Perkins, it will need to be an all-out assault if the team plans on giving Kentucky a run for its money. Those three will have to continue to play their roles, but everyone from the starting lineup to the last guy on the bench will have to play their best ball.

At the same time, those three players will need to play to their own strengths in order to provide the greatest chance of success. Slajchert has been leading the way in the scoring department, with Perkins not far behind. Spinoso has been key in Penn’s dominance in the rebounding department while also proving to be a solid passer from multiple spots on the floor.

If the Quakers can manage to truly maximize what they’re good at, and manage to force Kentucky to play to their brand of basketball, then it should be an interesting game for fans to behold.