When John Calipari and Mark Few announced their agreement to a home-and-home series, there was a small — but significant — distinction in the lingo used by the two legendary coaches. Few said he was excited to take his Gonzaga team to Rupp Arena, the Kentucky’s home court, whereas Calipari notably stopped short of committing to take his Cats to The Kennel.
Turns out, it was not a coincidence. As Gary Parrish explained in detail, the choice in language by the Hall of Fame coach was intentional. Calipari then confirmed on Thursday the selective distinction and explained why Kentucky — set to make the trip to face Gonzaga on Nov. 20 this year — will not play on the Bulldogs’ typical home court, but instead at the 12,000-seat Spokane Arena.
“I’m excited about playing Gonzaga. I’m disappointed that we have to go there first, but to make it happen I was willing to do that,” Calipari tweeted. “Playing in front of 13K crazy fans in Spokane Arena will be exciting just like it will be in front of 22K fans in Rupp next year.
“Anybody that wants us to play in a 6,000-seat facility, wants us to lose!” Calipari added. “And I get that. I tried to look back and find the last time UK played in a true regular-season road game with 6,000 or fewer fans. I stopped looking after the 70s.”
Amid all the excitement in this week’s announcement of the series, it was somewhat lost that this always seemed like a possibility. Not only did Calipari stop short of committing to play at The Kennel, he showed some somewhat awkward tension about the whole deal, figuratively puffing out his chest in front of Big Blue Nation when announcing it.
“This guy gets on me all the time. He wants to schedule a game,” said Calipari in a call with Few that aired in front of UK fans while Kentucky was helping with a telethon to raise funds for flood victims. “But everything’s got to be on his terms. I thought we were Kentucky?”
“First of all, we were fine,” Few playfully poked back. “We were looking good, and you just said, ‘Hey, you wanna play?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m good with playing.'”
It certainly stinks for college hoops fans that this isn’t a true home-and-home series as it initially appeared. Big teams playing in big, home environments are what makes the sport so great. But it’s Kentucky and Gonzaga, after all. Two teams that project as preseason top-five teams in 2022 and will almost certainly be in that same mix a year from now when the series concludes. Even if The Kennel won’t be the venue in November, this game should still be a great one.