Kentucky Basketball: Bluegrass swap Wildcats face Hilltoppers instead of Cards

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

It was supposed to be an instate rivalry game matching Kentucky basketball and Louisville in Rupp Arena for an early Christmas treat. But the Cards apparently were on the naughty Covid-19 list and forced UK to do a Bluegrass swap bringing in Western Kentucky instead.

Louisville was forced to suspend its games this week after Covid issues within the program and with just 48 hours to find a replacement it was a mad scramble and logistics nightmare for Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and coach John Calipari to find an equally and enticing foe on short notice.

Calipari admitted on his call in show Monday that they had reached out to Ohio State, Texas and Gonzaga even offering home-and-home games, the logistics were just not possible. So they did the right thing and stayed instate adding the Hilltoppers.

Now that wasn’t easy either since WKU was already scheduled to play Austin Peay on Wednesday, but for the chance to play Kentucky that game was agreed upon to be played in the 2022-23 season.

Kentucky basketball and WKU a great game playing for a great cause

Western Athletic Director Todd Stewart has been sounding the plea that the Big Red football and basketball team would play UK anytime, any place just say the word.

Word finally came and the deal is done.

The game will be played in its original scheduled time slot of 6 pm EST on ESPN.

Both teams were featured back-to-back on CBS Saturday when WKU easily defeated Louisville 82-72 and Kentucky followed demolishing North Carolina 98-69.

Back in primetime on Wednesday, it should be a great game pitting two of the more storied and winningest programs in NCAA history. Kentucky is the winningest program of all time sitting with 2,345 wins while Western ranks 14th with 1,844 just a handful of wins from being in the top 10.

While the excitement will be sky high what makes the game equally special is that UK Athletics is working on a charitable component from the game that will provide support for those who were affected by the tornadoes that ripped through Western Kentucky10 days ago including Bowling Green.

Barnhart spoke in a statement about the reschedule and the way the university is giving back to the state of Kentucky.

"“We have now dealt with COVID-related issues the last two scheduled games. I am very appreciative of the University of North Carolina and Western Kentucky University for working with us quickly to complete our schedule. I know our fans were looking forward to the game with our intrastate rival. In lieu of that game, Western Kentucky and the University of Kentucky will come together to provide some relief for our state as we work through the tragedy of the last couple of weeks in Western Kentucky.”"

Kentucky is 8-2 on the season and WKU is 7-4 but has consecutive wins over Ole Miss and Louisville.

Despite a combined 4,189 wins between them, the Wednesday tilt will only be the seventh all-time meeting between the two schools. The Cats lead the series 4-2, but the series is all square at 1-1 in Lexington.

The two were last on the court together in Louisville during the first game of the 2012 NCAA Tournament where Kentucky came away with an 81-66 victory. Big Blue would go on to win its eighth national championship.

However, the last time WKU came to Rupp to face the Wildcats they pulled a stunning 64-52 win to open the 2001-02 season.

Calipari spoke about the significance of helping the people of Kentucky and what it meant to him and the team going and seeing the death and destruction firsthand that the tornadoes left in their wake.

"“We were all disappointed to learn we won’t be able to play Louisville on Wednesday, but I am thrilled we were able to come together quickly and put this game together for everyone in this state. I want to thank Western Kentucky for working with us on short notice. Not only will this be a great test for our team, but we will be able to provide aid to the Western Kentucky region and lift the spirits of some special people who really need it.”"

The University announced that The Kentucky United Toy Drive, which was originally scheduled for the Louisville game, is still scheduled for Wednesday’s game. Fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys in their original packaging or a $25 VISA or Mastercard gift card.

Western Coach Rick Stansbury also released a statement about how grateful they are to be playing this game against Kentucky.

"“We want to extend our appreciation to Coach Calipari and Kentucky for their willingness to play this game. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about what our state is going through right now and continue to build support for those in western Kentucky affected by the recent tornadoes, including the people of Bowling Green. I know Cal and Kentucky didn’t have to do this, but it speaks volumes about their willingness to help the state of Kentucky.”"

Fans who have tickets and parking passes for the game can use them for Wednesday’s game.

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