When John Calipari agreed to become the Kentucky Wildcats head coach in 2009, he had a few goals. He was thankful for the opportunity to add to the wall. Can you imagine? They don’t hang anything else except “National Champions”, and that’s why he wanted to coach there.
When he “got it right” at Kentucky, the rabid fan base would notice they were No.1 in the country, earning No.1 seeds and going to Final Fours. Calipari is making due on his goals with those rankings, seeds and banners. Before he coached his first game at Kentucky, he pondered the reason why he came to Kentucky. Almost in jest, he said “Maybe it’s to catch UCLA, I don’t know but we’ll find out in a few years.”
On Thursday, Calipari sent a tweet to his 1,242,183 followers to welcome new UCLA head coach Steve Alford to Twitter. He then added that big things are in the works between the two programs.
Talk about a treat for a nostalgic college basketball fan. You have UCLA, who has won more national titles than anyone, going up against the team that is chasing them down. The ‘Cats and Bruins have not faced each other since the 2006 Maui Invitational. The Bruins won that meeting by six points.
They have only played each other 10 times in history, with the Wildcats having the edge with six wins. Perhaps the biggest game between the two schools occurred in 1975 for the National Championship. No.1 UCLA defeated No.2 Kentucky for their 11th title, the last of the John Wooden era.
Looking back at his Memphis days, Calipari has not shied away from playing anyone, anytime. Back at Memphis, he had to schedule that way due to a weak conference slate and the need for his team to be on national television. He no longer has that issue at Kentucky, but he did lack a true non-conference foe outside of arch rival Louisville.
After Christian Watford‘s “Bloomington Bomb” in the final moments of Indiana‘s buzzer-beating win versus the No.1 ‘Cats, the two teams have not met since 2012. Since the rivalry has picked up steam over the years with Indiana’s return to prominence under Tom Crean, Calipari wanted the game in bigger venues. Crean disagreed and wanted to keep the home-and-home series.
The two sides could never agree on a truce and the series is essentially dead.
Each year that Kentucky does not play Indiana, college basketball is robbed of a great rivalry game. This move by Calipari to play UCLA doesn’t make much sense as far as a rivalry goes. They have not played enough games, and the hate just isn’t there to consider it as such.
Something else that doesn’t make sense is the distance between the two schools. Calipari has stated he will never participate in the Maui Invitational again due to the time and travel. However, he’ll fly to California during the non-conference slate and play the Bruins?
UCLA is a quality non-conference opponent — I get that. The void is essentially filled when it comes to what Kentucky’s resume will look like with a win on the road versus the Bruins. The fans of college basketball will still feel a hole left from rivalry games with Indiana that cannot be replaced by UCLA.
From what I can gather, the home-and-home series with Kentucky and UCLA is all but set. The Wildcats and Bruins will start playing each other in 2014-15. There is no word yet on who travels first.
Brian Lewis is an SEC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can add him to your network on Google for more of his work.