By ERIC LINDSEY, UK Athletics
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky men’s basketball team has signed a three-year deal with Michigan that will take the Wildcats to London next season and add a marquee home-and-home series for the following two years.
Beginning with a trip to O2 Arena in London in December of 2020 – exact date to be announced at a later time – the Wildcats and Wolverines will play three consecutive seasons. UK will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the Dec. 4, 2021 game, and Kentucky will host Michigan in Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, 2022.
The first year of the three-year commitment will feature a neutral-site game in London at the O2 Arena in December of 2020. The neutral-site game between the two schools will be hosted by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and serve as a fundraiser for the Hall. It will be the first NCAA Division I college basketball game to be played in one of the world’s most popular venues.
All further details on play date, game time, television partner, ticket pricing, ancillary events and ticket on-sale will be announced in January of 2020.
“This series with Michigan checks off a lot of boxes when we’re looking at teams to schedule,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “The first thing is, to add an opponent like Michigan and to do so at a point in the schedule where we’re beginning to find out who we are as a team will be important in our development.
“And then to be able to do something different – to be first, which our fans know we love to do – and play this first game is London will be an unforgettable experience for our players and for our fans. I imagine the home-and-home games the following seasons will be as good as any nonconference games in the country.”
Travel packages will be announced at a later time.
UK has played internationally on a number of occasions for foreign exhibition tours, but the game in London will mark Kentucky’s fourth regular-season trip outside the U.S., third under Calipari and first in Europe.
The Wildcats traveled to Puerto Rico in November 1998 for the San Juan Shootout (UK went 2-1 during the three-game trip), defeated Cleveland State and Stanford in Mexico in the Cancun Challenge in November 2009 and most recently beat Arizona State in the Bahamas in November 2016.
London played host to the 1948 U.S. Olympic team that consisted of a handful of Wildcats. After winning the 1948 national championship – UK’s first NCAA title – five Wildcats represented the U.S. in the 1948 Olympics in London. The Kentucky-led team won all eight of its games to win the gold medal.
The 2020 game won’t carry quite the stakes as the 1948 Olympics, but it begins a significant series against a tradition-rich program.
Michigan has been one of the most successful programs over the last 10-plus seasons. Beginning with the 2009-10 season, when Calipari took over at Kentucky, Michigan has won 19 NCAA Tournament games, appeared in two Final Fours, three Elite Eights, five Sweet 16s, and has captured two Big 10 regular-season championships and three conference tournament titles.
The Wolverines are led by first-year head coach Juwan Howard, who has guided Michigan to a 7-1 start with two top-10 victories and the fourth spot in the latest Associated Press Top 25 rankings. The Michigan legend was a key member of the famed “Fab Five,” considered one of the best recruiting classes of all-time, and helped lead the Wolverines to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993.
Howard took the reins of the program this season after former head coach John Beilein moved to the NBA. That’s where Howard spent his previous six seasons and last five as an assistant with the Miami Heat. He played 19 seasons in the NBA.
UK leads the all-time series with Michigan 5-2. The most memorable matchup of the bunch – at least in the eyes of Big Blue Nation – was the most recent in March 2014 in Indianapolis. The Wildcats edged the Wolverines 75-72 in a classic in the Elite Eight. Aaron Harrison hit the second of three straight game-winning 3-pointers to advance UK to the Final Four.
Howard’s Wolverines knocked off Kentucky 81-78 in overtime in the 1993 Final Four to advance to the national championship game.
The on-campus visits in 2021 and 2022 will mark the first in the series since UK’s 1970 trip to Ann Arbor and the 1968 UK Invitational Tournament in Memorial Coliseum. The series is tied 1-1 in Lexington, but the Wildcats lead Michigan 2-0 in Ann Arbor and 2-1 at neutral sites.