By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
As we scan across the USA this holiday season there aren't too many colleges or universities enjoying the combined success in college basketball as the University of Kentucky.
John Calipari has his team atop all the men’s college basketball rankings as the consensus No. 1 team with only two real solid challenges left before the calendar turns to the new year. The first is coming up this Saturday against UCLA (3:30 on CBS) at the United Center in Chicago, Ill, where I’m sure Big Blue Nation will make the trip north up 1-65 and give them a decided neutral court advantage. The following Saturday, Dec. 27, at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., many college basketball gurus think will be the Cats' first real test of being bumped from the unbeaten ranks when they take on Rick Pitino’s No. 4 ranked Louisville Cardinals.
With first semester classes behind them and no more NCAA's 20 hours per week rule holding them back, you can be sure both Cal and Rick as well as their trusty assistants will be burning the midnight oil in the film room and their players will be practicing, eating, sleeping, and dreaming basketball 24/7.
Other than a matchup between UK-U of L in the NCAA title game, the next best scenario would be meeting in the regular season as unbeatens at No. 1 and No. 2. That scenario has come about as close to happening this year as any time in the past but to come true UConn has to bump Duke from No. 2 on Dec. 21 and then UNLV must bump Arizona from No. 3 on Dec. 23. I doubt either will happen but then again I never thought I’d live long enough to see the day Gardner Webb would be UK in Rupp Arena.
Only one thing I’m sure of come Dec. 27 and that’s with the Yum Center having 21 different concessions/venues where you can purchase alcohol. You can be sure the vast majority in attendance will hit the hard sauce either in celebration or deep sorrow. I wouldn’t want to be in or around the River City the evening of Dec. 27 nor will I be.
Matthew Mitchell and his UK Hoops team’s holiday schedule will be similar in ways (especially the extra practice routines) but Santa has already provided Mitchell and his gals with an early present when they came from 16 points down at the Yum Center on Dec. 7 and beat the Lady Cards by nine points. Now Mitchell and his lady hoopsters set their sights on a Dec. 21 date with Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium (3:00 p.m. on ESPN2) before they embark on another tough SEC regular season schedule. With a solid showing in the SEC (I’m thinking at least 12-4), the Wildcats can get a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the NCAA women’s version of March Madness. Remember starting in 2016, Rupp Arena will play host to three consecutive years (2016, '17 & '18) of an NCAA women’s regional round which, if not this year, hopefully in 2016 that will propel the UK Hoops team into that ultimate Final Four that Matthew Mitchell has so coveted in recent years.
Regardless of how everything plays out in March for either Wildcat program, you have to be pleased this holiday season to be a member of the Big Blue Nation.
Special Notes Of Interest For Wildcat Fans
--Beginning on Monday, Dec. 15, at 9:00 a.m., the 2015 UK season football tickets will go on sale for the general public now that the new seat selection process for CWS is completed. For obtaining season tickets you can go online to www.TheNewCws.com and click the button that says -- Buy New Season Tickets -- or call the Joe Craft Center ticket office at 1–800–928–2287.
--Tony Delk, arguably one of the Top 2 or 3 Wildcat all-time three-point shooters will have his jersey number retired into the rafters of Rupp Arena on Saturday, Feb. 21 against Auburn. Delk was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008. Most consider having your jersey retired by a school its highest honor to an athlete. Any remaining tickets for this game will go on sale at www.ukathletics.com about 10 to 12 days before this game.
--UK and UCLA announced last week that the two historic men’s basketball programs have signed a contract to play each other in a home and home series beginning Dec. 3, 2015 in historic Pauley Pavilion where John Wooden made the Bruins famous and then the following year on Dec. 3, 2016 the Bruins will make their first-ever appearance in historic Rupp Arena. Steve Alford, one of Bobby Knight’s favorite players, is the head coach at UCLA presently and agreed to the terms with John Calipari.