To help promote the Kentucky Flood Relief telethon Tuesday night, John Calipari teased “a really big-time announcement” that would be revealed on the broadcast.
The UK basketball coach delivered.
It was announced during the show that Kentucky will play the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the upcoming 2022-23 season. Full details on the matchup have not yet been made public, but it was confirmed Tuesday night that UK will play the Zags on Nov. 20 in Spokane, with Gonzaga returning the favor with a game against Kentucky in Rupp Arena during the 2023-24 season .
The agreement between Calipari and Gonzaga Coach Mark Few, who joined the telethon Tuesday night, will give Kentucky another formidable opponent for what’s shaping up to be a fierce non-conference schedule this season, as well as a marquee home game for the future.
The games were announced during a playful back and forth between Calipari and Few, who have grown close over the years and coach two of the biggest college basketball programs in the country.
Few started things off by thanking the players for helping to organize the event, which raised more than $2.4 million for eastern Kentucky flood relief by the end of the night. Like Calipari, he also praised Kentucky’s players for bypassing name, image and likeness profits and instead donating money made off of T-shirts and signed basketballs to the relief efforts.
“What you’re doing right now is God’s work. And that’s coming from a son of a preacher,” Few said. “This is what NIL should be all about — it is giving back and making a difference. And using the power of Big Blue Nation. … It is so cool what you guys are doing.”
Few said he told Calipari during the talks about a possible series that the game this season would have to be in Spokane.
The Kentucky coach then pointed out all of the other road trips ahead of the Cats in the early part of their schedule.
“We gotta go to London. We gotta go to New York,” Calipari said. “We gotta go to, uh, where else are we going? We’re going to Indiana, I believe.”
Few grinned at Calipari’s bluster on the last one.
“Oh boy, that’s a road trip there. What, are you guys riding your bikes to that one?” he quipped of the upcoming trek to Indianapolis, drawing some laughter from the crowd.
“Yeah, you’re the best,” Calipari replied.
Few then agreed that Gonzaga would come to Lexington for the 2023-24 campaign.
“We will absolutely come back,” Few said. “We’ve never played in Rupp Arena, and it would be awesome.”
Gonzaga has advanced past the first weekend in each of the past seven NCAA Tournaments, and the Bulldogs have earned No. 1 seeds in the past three tourneys. They advanced to the NCAA title game with a perfect 31-0 record in 2021 before losing there to Baylor.
The expectations for the Zags are sky high this season.
CBS Sports has Gonzaga at No. 1 in its offseason rankings, noting that the team will return six of its top eight scorers from last season’s 28-4 squad. The returnees include veteran players Drew Timme and Julian Strawther, as well as Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis — two five-star recruits from the 2021 class who played supporting roles as freshmen but are expected to see more time on the court this season. Hickman had actually signed with Kentucky during his senior season before backing out of that commitment and joining Gonzaga instead.
The Bulldogs are No. 2 in ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early” Top 25 rankings, and they have the second-shortest odds to win the national title on the Caesars Sportsbook betting sheet. North Carolina is No. 1 on both of those lists.
Kentucky is also expected to be one of the nation’s top teams this season. The Cats are No. 4 in both the ESPN and CBS Sports rankings, and the Caesars Sportsbook lists UK alongside Gonzaga with the same 10-1 odds to win the 2023 national championship.
The Wildcats’ roster will obviously feature reigning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe.
Kentucky’s non-conference schedule already featured a game in London against Michigan, additional neutral-site matchups with Michigan State (in Indianapolis) and UCLA (in New York), and home games against rival Louisville and reigning national champion Kansas.
UK and Gonzaga have played only once — an 80-72 Wildcats’ victory in the 2002 Maui Invitational.
This story was originally published August 2, 2022 7:04 PM.