No. 4 Cats square off with No. 2 Bulldogs in Spokane


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) reacts to a play during the No. 4 Kentucky vs. Michigan State Champions Classic mens basketball game on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Michigan State won 86-77 in the second overtime. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Samantha Money, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 4 Kentucky basketball will look to claim its first ranked win of the season against No. 2 Gonzaga on Sunday.

The game marks the beginning of a six-year scheduling agreement between the Wildcats and the Bulldogs with games in Kentucky and Washington, as well as two neutral sites.

With Kentucky and Gonzaga consistently ranking at the top of their respective conferences every season, Spokane Arena is sure to see some competitive action on the court.

The last time the teams had the luxury to meet was at the 2002 Maui Invitational when then No. 15 Kentucky beat No. 20 Gonzaga 80-72.

The Wildcats most recently defeated South Carolina State after a loss to Michigan State in the Champions Classic. The Spartans, interestingly enough, played Gonzaga just prior to its Kentucky matchup.

MSU even gave the Bulldogs a run for their money, finishing just a basket away from taking the victory, though the game ended 64-63 in favor of Gonzaga.

Unlike the Bulldogs, the Wildcats were not able to hold off the Spartans and were overcome 86-77 in double overtime.

Ultimately the key to the victory for the Zags was their defense outlasting Michigan State while Kentucky’s defense came up short.

That said, the Cats have some justification in not being 100% since the game marked the first time both Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins took the court for the Cats during the regular season. Tshiebwe returned from injury while Collins missed the start of the season following the sudden death of his father.

Kentucky’s most recent game against South Carolina State this past Thursday was a much-needed opportunity for the Cats to regroup and re-find their groove with each other before taking on Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs are off to a solid start for the season, albeit less than what is usually expected by the Zags, so a halfway-ready Kentucky team will not be able to find victory in Spokane easily.

“I feel like we gave a game away against Michigan State,” Chris Livingston said. “So, to play against another top team, especially after losing to Texas the way they did, we’re going to get their best shot, their best fight. Really looking to bounce back and really looking forward to that matchup.”

Getting into the numbers, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme is sure to be a major threat against the Cats, currently averaging 20.7 points and eight rebounds per game, leading his team in points, rebounds and blocks.

Gonzaga is shooting 52.3% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc as a team while Kentucky has shot 49% from the field but leads with 42.4% from beyond the arc. 

CJ Fredrick currently leads Kentucky in scoring, averaging 14 points per game. Ironically enough, the scoring leaders on both teams are no stranger to the other, having played against each other in middle school.

After the South Carolina State game, Fredrick talked about how he, as well as the rest of the team, is ready for the matchup on Sunday. 

“We all make mistakes, you know, next play, next game,” Fredrick said. “We got to learn from them and try to bounce back.”

Despite the game being played in Washington, the teams will take the court inside Spokane Arena as opposed to Gonzaga’s home arena, the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I guarantee you we will still have some big blue fans in there and it’s just going to be a great game” Lance Ware said.

Kentucky and Gonzaga are set to tip off on Sunday, Nov. 20, inside Spokane arena at 7:30 p.m. EST. The game can be watched live on ESPN.