Wichita — A pre-tournament darling before March Madness even tipped off, 16th-seeded University of Pennsylvania won the opening minutes of its anticipated Thursday afternoon meeting with No. 1 seed Kansas and followed through with some second-half fight, too, at Intrust Bank Arena.
But the team with basketball pedigree and a potential All-American senior on its side successfully shattered some Cinderella dreams.
The Big 12 regular-season and postseason champion Jayhawks moved on to the NCAA Tournament’s second round with a 76-60 victory over the Ivy League champion Quakers.
Senior KU point guard Devonte’ Graham not only led the team in scoring (29 points) but did a bit of everything (six assists, six rebounds) to assure the Jayhawks of their 12th consecutive victory in the tournament’s opening round.
Kansas (28-7) knocked down 7 of 17 3-pointers (41 percent) against a Penn team (24-9) known for its successful defense outside of the arc.
Graham (3 of 8), Lagerald Vick (2 of 4, 14 points) and Svi Mykhailiuk (2 of 3, 10 points) all drained multiple 3-pointers versus the Quakers, who entered the NCAA Tournament with a 3-point percentage defense of 29.2.
Kansas improved to 34-13 in the Big Dance under the guidance of 15th-year head coach Bill Self.
View a gallery of images from the Jayhawks' first round game against Penn at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: KU’s likely first-team All-American decided it was time to take over and carry his team to the next round.
Kansas trailed by 10 points 12 minutes into the opening-round matchup, after just 1 of its first 8 attempts from 3-point range dropped. Penn, meanwhile got off to a 4-for-7 start from long range, building a 21-11 lead against the Midwest’s No. 1 seed.
After an Antonio Woods layup put the Jayhawks in a double-digit hole, Graham had seen enough.
The Big 12 Player of the Year and the face of this KU team, Graham scored 15 of his 19 first-half points in the final 7:03.
During the game-altering stretch Graham was nearly flawless, making 5 of 6 shots and contributing a steal, an offensive rebound, a defensive rebound, an assist and a 3-for-3 trip to the foul line to close the opening half.
Thanks to Graham assertive approach, the Jayhawks headed to the locker room up 33-26 after opening the game 5 of 20 from the floor.
Although Penn would go on to narrow the Kansas lead to as low as four in the opening minutes of the second half, momentum within the game and the pro-KU arena shifted for good with Graham’s first-half show.
• Offensive highlight: Typical Kansas starting center Udoka Azubuike only played three minutes in the first half as the team took a look at how his injured left knee would hold up in game action.
The 7-footer known for his monster dunks wasn’t that explosive in his return to the court and didn’t attempt a shot, so the offensive fireworks had to originate from elsewhere.
Enter the bouncy legs of KU junior Vick.
The guard’s easiest points of the win came in crunch time in the second half, with the Jayhawks up 11.
Mykhailiuk spotted Vick cutting to the rim with the Penn defense out of position and fed his teammate a lob. Vick didn’t throw it down quite as emphatically as he has in the past, but in a KU game featuring only two slams, this one stood out, especially because it seemed Vick, as Self stated the day before, might be on an uptick.
• Defensive highlight: The defensive play itself didn’t seem especially spectacular in the instant it occurred, but a Graham steal on the perimeter might have been the single play that propelled Kansas out of its early-game funk.
Solid half-court defense from the Jayhawks had Penn searching out a scoring avenue with the shot clock winding down. As Quakers sixth man Caleb Wood dribbled from the right wing toward the top of the key, he began to gather the ball and KU’s point guard cleanly smacked it away with 7:10 to go in the first half and his team down 10 points.
Graham secured the newly loose ball and pitched it ahead to fellow senior Mykhailiuk. Although the guard from Ukraine missed a transition layup, Graham sprinted behind him and tipped the miss in.
The all-around hustle of Graham accounted for two of KU’s nine points off turnovers (Penn gave it away seven times) in the first half.
The steal ignited a 22-5 Kansas run leading into intermission.
• Key stat: Points in the paint. Even without a healthy Azubuike and limited offensive contributions from Mitch Lightfoot (nine points, five in the final 3 minutes) and Silvio De Sousa (two points), Kansas made sure to seek out interior shot attempts.
As a result, the Jayhawks out-scored the Quakers, 34-20 in points in the paint.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will be back at Intrust Bank Arena Saturday to face the winner of Seton Hall versus North Carolina State, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.