Earlier this month, the Kentucky basketball program added two new Conference USA opponents to its non-conference schedule: UAB on Dec. 6 and Marshall on Dec. 29.
Following the announcement, Western Kentucky called out UK on Twitter, asking why they haven’t called them back about putting the Hilltoppers on the schedule.
“If you’re making the C-USA tour, give us a call back sometime!” the official WKU men’s basketball account wrote. “We’re ready and right down the road.”
“Oh, and our previous offer for these dates still dates still stands,” they added in a follow-up tweet. “Play us and we’ll give the full guarantee check to charity to help within our state.”
At the time, UK confirmed to KSR that the school has been in talks with Western Kentucky regarding a potential matchup in the future, but added that the in-state programs will not face off this year.
“Our nonconference schedule is complete for this upcoming season but we will continue to discuss scheduling opportunities with WKU for future seasons,” said a UK spokesman.
Just three weeks later, WKU head coach Rick Stansbury addressed the playful banter, telling reporters in a Tuesday media opportunity that he would love to play Kentucky, but understands why UK would be hesitant to add the Toppers to its schedule. With WKU returning two former Kentucky Mr. Basketball standouts in Taveion Hollingsworth and Carson Williams, along with former five-star prospect Charles Bassey coming back for his junior season, Stansbury feels Kentucky has more to lose than it has to gain.
In his eyes, he sees it as respect that UK would rather add two other Conference USA teams than take on his in-state Hilltoppers.
“(Kentucky coach John Calipari) and I talked about it, and I think Cal was trying to do everything he could to try and get the game to work out,” Stansbury said. “I do understand. Don’t mean I have to really like it. I look at it as respect, that’s the way I look at it. Somebody don’t want to play us, they play someone else in your league, other teams. I don’t look at the negatives, I look at the positives.
“There’s respect there. … Naturally, we would love to play Kentucky. Do I understand why they don’t want to play us? I do. Probably, if I’m Kentucky, why take the chance on playing Western Kentucky? Why do that?”
While the in-state matchup won’t be happening in 2020-21, Stansbury hopes the two sides can come together and reach an agreement on a series in the future.
“If the shoe were on the other foot, you’re sitting in that chair. We’ve got a good, experienced team coming back, why roll the dice with playing us? I didn’t take it as personal, I took it as respect,” Stansbury continued. “Only respect, because it is Kentucky. We all know they have one of the better programs in America, and as a coach and as a player, you like the challenge of playing the best, especially in our own state.
“Hopefully in the future, we can keep finding ways to move forward and get some games [against UK].”
The Wildcats and Hilltoppers have only played six times since 1971, with the most recent matchup coming back in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament when Kentucky took home an 81-66 victory en route to the program’s eighth national championship. They have not played in the regular season since Patrick Sparks and the Hilltoppers handed Tubby Smith’s fourth-ranked Wildcats a 64-52 loss at Rupp Arena in 2001.
Kentucky leads the all-time series 4-2.