Mark Few and John Calipari finalized one of the most intriguing nonconference matchups of the 2022-23 college basketball season on Tuesday afternoon.
It all went down via telethon.
Fresh off a wakeboarding session at an undisclosed Pacific Northwest lake, Few phoned into Calipari’s Kentucky Flood Relief event, held in front of hundreds of fans at at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. With a pickleball match and barbecue on Few’s evening docket, the longtime friends and coaching counterparts got straight to business.
“This guy gets on me all the time … he wants to schedule a game,” Calipari said. “But hold on, hold on, everything’s got to be on his terms. I thought we were Kentucky.”
“First of all we were fine, we were looking good and you just said, ‘You want to play?’” Few responded. “I’m like, yeah I’m good with playing. Then I said it needs to be in Spokane because we’re traveling all over god’s green earth.”
“What date are you talking about?” Calipari said.
“Uh, Nov. 20,” Few said. “Nov. 20 is what suits us. How about you?”
“You’re the No. 1 team in the country and we’ve got to go to you,” Calipari said. “Let me ask you this, maybe this is crazy. Will you come back here (to Lexington) the following year or are you just saying it’s a one-game shot in Spokane?”
“We will absolutely come back,” Few said. “We’ve never played in Rupp Arena, and it would be awesome to get my program into Rupp.”
“So we’re playing on Nov. 20 in Spokane, is that right?” Calipari said.
“Let’s do it,” Few said.
The home-and-home series will send Calipari and Kentucky to McCarthey Athletic Center for the first time on Nov. 20. Gonzaga will return the favor by traveling to Lexington, Kentucky, for a game in 2023. The coaches didn’t hash out an official date for the return trip during Tuesday’s telethon call.
Gonzaga and Kentucky have met only once in their history, playing at the 2002 Maui Invitational. Despite a 24-point outing from Blake Stepp, the Wildcats edged the Bulldogs by a final score of 80-72.
The 2022 matchup will not only feature two of the sport’s most decorated coaches, but two teams that expect to factor into the national title conversation. ESPN’s most recent way-too-early preseason Top 25 poll has Gonzaga at No. 2 and Kentucky at No. 4.
The game also guarantees one of the most compelling individual matchups of the college basketball season, pitting Gonzaga All-American forward/center Drew Timme against Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year. Timme and Tshiebwe are widely expected to be the early favorites to win 2022-23 national player of the year honors after both players spurned the NBA to return to college.
With the addition of Kentucky, the Zags continue to round out a nonconference schedule that should rival some of the most challenging in program history. Gonzaga is also playing Michigan State (Nov. 11), Baylor (Dec. 2) and Alabama (Dec. 17) in neutral-site games, visiting Texas (Nov. 16) in Austin and competing in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament – an event that could pit the Bulldogs against two of Purdue, West Virginia, Duke, Florida and Xavier.
The Wildcats join a growing list of college basketball blue bloods who’ve committed to playing Gonzaga in Spokane. The Zags closed out a home-and-home with North Carolina in 2020 and had scheduled another one with reigning national champion Kansas, though it appears that series will be put on hold for the time being with the chance the schools could meet in the 2023 Maui Invitational.
Tshiebwe, the senior forward from Congo who averaged 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds last season, headlines another strong Kentucky roster, albeit one that brings back just two starters. Former Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler averaged 10.1 points last season while making 29 starts.
The Wildcats signed two of the country’s top-20 recruits in five-star guard Cason Wallace and five-star forward Chris Livingston. Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves is expected to figure in heavily after averaging 20.1 points in 2021-22.
The November game features a few other interesting subplots. Gonzaga’s Nolan Hickman was a former Kentucky commit who was Lexington-bound until reopening his recruitment on April 31, 2021, pledging to the Bulldogs two weeks later.
Former Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer opened his career at Kentucky, winning a national championship with the Wildcats in 2012 before transferring to the Bulldogs ahead of the 2014 season.
Wiltjer reacted to Tuesday’s announcement on Twitter, writing “Long overdue !!! Been lobbying for this for awhile now. I expect a check from ESPN in the mail.”
Wiltjer, who now plays professionally in Spain, also tweeted “I am already in search of someone who can make me a KENTZAGA jersey !!!
The Zags and Wildcats each had two players selected in the 2022 NBA Draft, with GU’s Chet Holmgren going No. 2 overall to Oklahoma City and Andrew Nembhard being taken 31st by Indiana. Kentucky’s Shaedon Sharpe was selected seventh by Portland and TyTy Washington Jr. went No. 29 to Memphis before being traded to Houston.
Kentucky’s Calipari ranks No. 17 in career coaching wins with 768 over 30 seasons while Gonzaga’s Few checks in at No. 44 with 658 over 23 seasons. Few has a career winning percentage of .836 while Calipari’s is .763.
Postseason Cinderella Saint Peter’s ended Kentucky’s season in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, upsetting the second-seeded Wildcats 85-79 in Indianapolis.
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