The No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats will face the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday, Feb. 10, at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The game will be a rare opportunity for the Wildcats to claim a Quadrant 1 victory and boost their NCAA Tournament resume.
Kentucky’s struggles against top teams
Kentucky (16-6, 6-4 SEC) has been inconsistent this season, especially against ranked opponents. The Wildcats have lost four of their five games against teams in the top 25 of the NET rankings, the primary tool used by the NCAA Selection Committee to evaluate teams. Their only win came against No. 18 LSU on Jan. 29, when they rallied from a 14-point deficit to win 65-60 at home.
The Wildcats have also failed to impress in neutral-site games, losing to Duke, Notre Dame and Ohio State in non-conference play. Their best win away from Rupp Arena was against No. 39 Western Kentucky on Dec. 11, when they edged the Hilltoppers 70-69 in Bowling Green.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has acknowledged that his team needs to improve its performance against quality opponents. “We’ve got to figure out how to win these games,” he said after the loss to Ohio State on Dec. 18. “We’ve got to be more disciplined, we’ve got to be tougher, we’ve got to execute better.”
Gonzaga’s balanced attack
Gonzaga (16-6, 7-2 West Coast Conference) is no stranger to playing tough competition. The Bulldogs have faced six teams from power conferences (the football Power Five plus the Big East) this season, going 3-3. They have wins over Syracuse, UCLA and Southern California, and losses to Purdue, Connecticut and Washington.
The Bulldogs are led by a balanced attack that features four players averaging double figures in scoring. Graham Ike, a 6-foot-9 transfer from Wyoming, leads the team with 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Ryan Nembhard, a 6-foot transfer from Creighton, is the team’s floor general, averaging 12.5 points and 5.8 assists per game. Drew Timme, a 6-foot-10 junior, is a versatile big man who can score inside and outside, averaging 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Rasir Bolton, a 6-foot-3 senior, is a sharpshooter who can light it up from beyond the arc, averaging 11.8 points and making 42.9% of his three-point attempts.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few has praised his team’s chemistry and unselfishness. “We have a lot of guys who can score, but they don’t care who gets the credit,” he said after the win over USC on Jan. 22. “They just want to win and play the right way.”
The stakes of the game
The game between Kentucky and Gonzaga will have significant implications for both teams’ postseason aspirations. For Kentucky, it will be a chance to earn a signature win that could improve their seeding and confidence heading into the SEC and NCAA tournaments. For Gonzaga, it will be a chance to prove themselves against a blue-blood program and a hostile crowd, and to solidify their status as a potential Final Four contender.
The game will also be a rare matchup between two of the most successful and respected coaches in college basketball. Calipari and Few have combined for 1,221 wins, 32 conference titles, 28 NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 Final Fours and two national championships. They have also developed a mutual admiration and friendship over the years, often exchanging ideas and compliments.
The game will tip off at 4 p.m. (EST) and be telecast by CBS. It will be the first time that Gonzaga plays in Rupp Arena, and only the third meeting between the two programs. The series is tied 1-1, with Kentucky winning 95-90 in 1999 and Gonzaga winning 88-72 in 2022.
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