As reported by Matt Norlander of CBS Sports, the newly appointed Kentucky coach Mark Pope has arranged the Wildcats’ first non-conference matchup. The Wildcats are in the process of finalizing a deal  to host in-state rival Western Kentucky at Rupp Arena in the upcoming season. This game against WKU will be part of a three-game multi-team event at Rupp Arena, with all three games expected to feature matchups against mid-major schools, possibly including one against an HBCU program.

Despite their proximity, the Wildcats and Hilltoppers have met infrequently, having played only seven times since 1971, with Kentucky leading the series 5-2. Their most recent encounter was during the 2021-22 season when Western Kentucky stepped in as a replacement for Louisville due to COVID-related issues. In that game, Oscar Tshiebwe made headlines by securing a Rupp Arena record of 28 rebounds, contributing to Kentucky’s 95-60 victory. Kellan Grady led the scoring with 23 points, while TyTy Washington added 20.

In Steve Lutz’s sole season as head coach during 2023-24, WKU achieved a 22-12 overall record and an 8-8 standing in Conference USA. Their triumph in the C-USA Tournament secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they entered as a No. 15 seed and faced No. 2 Marquette, ultimately losing 87-69 in the first round. Following this season, Lutz departed Bowling Green to assume the head coaching position at Oklahoma State, with Hank Plona, a WKU assistant, stepping in as his replacement.


Coach Calipari shares thoughts on Mark Pope

Mark Pope expressed to Andy Katz of NCAA March Madness the desire for Kentucky to return to multi-team events like the Maui Invitational, a tournament the Wildcats have been part of since 2010. Pope emphasized the logistical challenges involved, such as ticket packages and financing home games, but affirmed the program’s commitment to finding solutions. He underscored the significance of these events to both the Big Blue Nation and the program itself.

In addition to the WKU matchup, Kentucky’s upcoming schedule includes fixtures against Duke (Champions Classic), Ohio State (CBS Sports Classic), Louisville at Rupp Arena, Gonzaga in Seattle, and an opponent yet to be announced in the second annual ACC-SEC Challenge.

Pope has also engaged in discussions with St. John’s head coach and former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino regarding a potential home-and-home series with the Red Storm.

“The admiration that BBN holds for Rick Pitino is truly remarkable. We’re eager to find a way to bring Coach Pitino and his formidable St. John’s teams to Rupp Arena for an exciting matchup,” Pope remarked. “While our scheduling process presents challenges and obligations, we’re committed to finding solutions that allow us to host games of this caliber. This week, we’ve made significant progress in our scheduling efforts, and I’m actively working to ensure we can continue to arrange compelling matchups like this. The enthusiasm is there; now we just need to balance it with our financial considerations.”


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