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Men’s Basketball

Irish to commence 3-game series against Kentucky in Rupp Arena next season

| Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published online May 28.

Notre Dame men’s basketball has announced a three-game series with the University of Kentucky beginning with the upcoming 2020-21 season. The Irish will travel south to Lexington, Kentucky, for a matchup with the Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Dec. 12, followed by a neutral site game the following season and a date at Purcell Pavilion in 2022.

Notre Dame and Kentucky have faced off 62 times over the history of both. The Wildcats hold a 43-19 edge in the all-time series.

The teams first faced off in 1929, a 19-16 victory for Kentucky, followed by seven straight wins in the series for the Irish as the teams established a yearly matchup from the 1935-36 season through 1951-52. Notre Dame did not make a trip to Lexington until 1951 — when the Wildcats still played in Memorial Coliseum — as the teams alternated primarily between South Bend and Louisville, Kentucky.

The rivalry continued in 1958 when the two teams met in the NCAA Mideast Regional Final, hosted by the Wildcats, and the home team cruised to an 89-56 victory en route to their fourth national championship. The following season their annual meetings resumed, a series which was almost exclusively conducted in Louisville and went uninterrupted through 1982.

During that period, Notre Dame only won four of 26 games. Despite the lopsided record, the teams were both ranked at the time of the contest eleven times, and both were in the top 10 nationally six times. The Irish were one loss in the 1978 Final Four against Duke away from a national championship rematch of their 73-68 loss to the Wildcats earlier that season.

The teams renewed annual meetings on a couple of more occasions over the next three decades. In total, the Irish and Wildcats have met four times in the postseason, with Kentucky holding a 3-1 advantage. The lone Notre Dame win came in the 2009 NIT in a game hosted by the Irish. Most recently, a Kentucky team that had gone 37-0 prior survived a nail-biting 2015 Elite Eight matchup against Notre Dame in Cleveland, OH by a score of 68-66.

Both historic programs, Kentucky is the all-time NCAA leader in wins with 2,293, while the Irish rank eighth with 1,880 to their name. The Wildcats also boast 17 Final Fours and eight national titles to Notre Dame’s one Final Four appearance and two pre-tournament Helms national titles in 1927 and 1936.

In terms of recent history, head coach John Calipari’s Kentucky tenure has been marked by colloquial one-and-done players who have come to his program for a single season before departing for the NBA. The somewhat controversial strategy has resulted in 35 NBA Draft picks, 26 of them in the first round, nine tournament appearances, seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours and one national championship during his eleven years in Lexington.

Calipari has recorded a 330-77 record as coach of Kentucky, placing him second in program history in wins behind only Adolph Rupp’s 876. He has also recorded six SEC regular season and conference championships, four SEC Coach of the Year awards and earned one of his three career Naismith Coach of the Year awards with the Wildcats as he led them to a 38-1 record and Final Four appearance in 2015.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey’s program may be viewed as the polar opposite of Calipari’s. Even as one-and-done players have become more and more prevalent, Brey’s tenure has been defined by developing players for four years. Notre Dame has never had a player depart for the pros before their junior season, and Brey has only had two players depart before their senior years: guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Troy Murphy.

In his 20 seasons with the Irish, Brey has amassed a program record 437 wins, including 15 20-win seasons, one Big East West Division title in 2001 and one ACC Tournament Championship in 2015. He was named Big East Coach of the Year three times and 2011 Coach of the Year according to Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com and the Associated Press.

Notre Dame has never defeated Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Should they break that streak this coming season, it would provide a defining win for an Irish team that has suffered a downturn and not made the NCAA Tournament since 2017.

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