Gonzaga and Kentucky are still set to play on Nov. 20 in Spokane, but one of college basketball’s marquee nonconference matchups won’t follow a conventional “home-and-home” format.
Wildcats coach John Calipari confirmed Thursday the first game of the series would take place at Spokane Arena rather than Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center. Stadium’s Jeff Goodman first reported on the possibility the teams would play at the 12,638-seat venue in downtown Spokane.
Calipari suggested the return game, set to take place next fall in Lexington, Ky., would still take place at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
“I’m excited about playing Gonzaga,” Calipari tweeted. “I’m disappointed that we have to go there first, but to make it happen I was willing to do that. Playing in front of 13K crazy fans in Spokane Arena will be exciting just like it will be in front of 22K fans in Rupp (Arena) next year.
“I imagine there will be some #BBN (Big Blue Nation) and some Gonzaga fans too who will sneak in the game this year because there’s more seats!”
Gonzaga and Kentucky have already been ranked inside the top-five of various early preseason polls and the Bulldogs, who return three starters and national player of the year candidate Drew Timme, will be in the conversation for a preseason No. 1 ranking when the 2022-23 campaign started.
Calipari deflected potential criticism for opting not to play Gonzaga at the Kennel. The 14th-year Kentucky coach was transparent with his reasoning, tweeting “Anybody that wants us to play in a 6,000-seat facility, wants us to lose! And I get that. I tried to look back and find the last time UK played in a true regular-season road game with 6,000 or fewer fans. I stopped looking after the 70s.”
In a separate tweet, Calipari broached the idea of extending the series beyond its current two-year structure.
“This is great for both schools and I can’t wait to get the series started,” he wrote. “Maybe we make this four years?
Gonzaga hasn’t played a game at Spokane Arena since 2014, when it beat Washington State behind a 22-point outing from Przemek Karnowski.
November’s GU-UK game won’t be Calipari’s first trip to Spokane, nor to Spokane Arena. In February 2009, the 63-year-old coach took his 14th-ranked Memphis team to the Inland Northwest to face 18th-ranked Gonzaga. The Tigers took a 17-point lead into halftime before cruising to a 68-50 win. Memphis’ Tyreke Evans, the eventual NBA Rookie of the Year, led all scorers with 22 points.
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