Calipari announces home-and-home series against Gonzaga


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky mens basketball head coach John Calipari talks to fans during an open practice and telethon benefitting flood victims in Eastern Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball head coach John Calipari announced Tuesday that Kentucky will challenge reigning No. 1 overall seeded Gonzaga in November.

Calipari promised a “big announcement” prior to the open practice telethon to raise money for Eastern Kentucky flood victims, leaving fans buzzing on social media as to what the news could be.

With several other announcements during the night, such as the moving of the Blue-White game to Eastern Kentucky and a womens basketball camp at North Laurel High School, fans had to wait until around 7 p.m. for Calipari to introduce his “friend” Mark Few, head coach of the Gonzaga mens basketball team, on the video board.

Framing it more as a conversation than major announcement, Calipari joked with quips such as “I thought we were Kentucky” and “We have to do it his way,” before announcing that the Wildcats will travel to Spokane, Washington, on Nov. 20, 2022, to play the Bulldogs in their home arena.

Not willing to leave it there, Calipari asked if Few would be willing to return the favor the following year, with the latter agreeing Gonzaga would come to Rupp Arena in 2023, officially bringing together the home-and-home series.

The series had been a long time coming with Wildcat fans clamoring about Kentucky’s frequent lack of marquee matchups in the non-conference schedule and Few’s public callout of Duke and Kentucky not willing to play in Spokane after beating then No. 5 Texas in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gonzaga, while at one point regarded as nothing more than a standard mid-major program, has reached new heights since Few took over the program in 1999.

Since then, Few has gone 658-129 with 38 NCAA Tournament wins. The Zags have also won the West Coast Conference (WCC) Basketball Tournament 19 out of 24 chances, winning nine of their last 10, having only won one WCC championship prior to Few.

The Zags made it to the national championship game twice in the NCAA Tournament, first in 2017 and again in 2021, with the Bulldogs being undefeated prior to the title game in the latter year.

Gonzaga has been a one seed in four of the last five NCAA Tournaments, including being the No. 1 overall seed in back-to-back seasons leading into the 2022-2023 campaign.

As for Kentucky, the Wildcats won the 2012 national championship under coach Calipari, who took the reins of the program in 2009.

Similar to the Zags after them, Kentucky also has experience entering the national championship game undefeated, doing so in 2015.

The Wildcats earned a two seed with championship ambitions in the 2022 NCAA Tournament after missing out on the 2021 tournament, where they were stunned in the first round by No. 15 Saint Peter’s in overtime.

With the Zags also being upset in the Sweet Sixteen by Arkansas, both squads are looking to overcome a disappointing tournament season with championship ambitions in 2023.

Kentucky returns much of its core, including consensus National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe and point guard Sahvir Wheeler, along with bringing in several five-star freshmen.

The Wildcats lost starters TyTy Washington Jr. and Keion Brooks to the NBA Draft and transfer portal, as well as reclassified freshman Shaedon Sharpe, who was expected to be the face of the 2023 season before he was drafted into the NBA.

As for Gonzaga, No. 1 recruit for the 2022 season Chet Holmgren was drafted No. 2 overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and point guard Andrew Nembhard was drafted No. 31 overall by the Indiana Pacers.

As of June 3, CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has the Zags No. 1 overall in his preseason poll while Kentucky takes up No. 4, just behind Houston and reigning runner-ups North Carolina, making the Nov. 20 showdown a top five matchup by his standards.

No doubt a candidate to be the match of the year before it even begins, Nov. 20 will be a date circled on the calendars of Wildcat fans across the commonwealth.