Tip time set for annual Kentucky-Louisville clash

After a one-year hiatus, the annual Battle of the Bluegrass rivalry game between Kentucky and Louisville will take place Dec. 31 at Rupp Arena at noon ET on CBS, it was announced Friday. 

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The meeting will mark the first between UK’s John Calipari and long-time Calipari assistant Kenny Payne, who was named new head coach of the Cardinals in March. Payne spent 10 years on the Wildcats bench as Calipari’s top assistant before leaving for the New York Knicks prior to the 2020-21 season.

“I love him but there will be a day where I want to beat his head in, and he’ll want to beat my head in,” Payne said recently. “I love him. He’s a mentor and a friend and someone I learned so much from. But also, we both are competitive men. We both want a culture of winning. That in no way will be the negative hatred of John Calipari for me. It will be a game that I will try to do everything in my power to help my team win. I hope I win by one, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Payne said Calipari pushed him to leave the Knicks and return to Louisville, where he won a national championship with the Cardinals in 1986 and went on to become a first round draft pick.

“Cal was probably one of the first people to say, ‘Kenny it’s an unbelievable job. It has a great tradition, great facilities, it’s a basketball school, it’s your home. You have to consider it and I hope you take it for you and that community,'” Payne said. “It shows that he cares about me, but he also cares about the state of Kentucky. Not just at the University of Kentucky but does it really look right when Louisville is down but Kentucky is up? How does it look when both of us are having success? What’s the buzz throughout the state?”

Kentucky and Louisville were scheduled to play at Rupp Arena last December but the game was postponed and ultimately canceled due to positive COVID-19 results within the UofL program. UK instead played fellow in-state foe Western Kentucky, defeating the Hilltoppers 95-60, a game in which national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down a Rupp Arena record 28 rebounds.

The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry had been played every year since the 1982-83 season with UK leading the series 37-17. Calipari is 11-3 vs. the Cardinals since 2010 but Louisville won the last meeting, 62-59 at the KFC Yum! Center in 2020. The Wildcats are a perfect 6-0 vs. the Cardinals at Rupp Arena during the Calipari era.

UK’s confirmed 2022-23 non-conference opponents include games against Michigan State at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis (Nov. 15), at Gonzaga (Nov. 20), Michigan in London (Dec. 4), UCLA at the CBS Sports Classic in New York (Dec. 17), and vs. Kansas in the Big 12-SEC Challenge (Jan. 28).

The Cats will also reportedly host North Florida (Nov. 18), Bellarmine (Nov. 29), Duquesne (TBA) and Yale (TBA).

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