There was intense jubilation across much of the Gonzaga fandom, and presumably some in Kentucky, after it was announced that the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Kentucky Wildcats had entered into a home-and-home arrangement, beginning in Spokane this upcoming season.
The excitement started to get muted a bit, when the rumblings came out that the game would not be happening in The Kennel in Spokane, but rather, in the Spokane Arena, just down the road from campus. So rather than a traditional home-and-home, we are now looking at a neighbor’s home-and-home.
This morning, Coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats stated his reasoning for the location shift.
Anybody that wants us to play in a 6,000-seat facility, wants us to lose! 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.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) August 4, 2022
No matter how we splice this matchup, Kentucky is the big dog coming into town. It is a larger program with more prestige, fame, and essentially power at the negotiating table for Gonzaga. Although one can argue neither team really needs to play each other at this point in their reputations, UK still holds a slightly better hand, and if to get this game on the books, than so be it.
Looking past the fact that Coach Cal doesn’t want to play in The Kennel, the Zags extracted an incredibly large win out of this arrangement—specifically that the game is in Spokane this year. The Zags will be a preseason top three team this year. The championship rumbling is building again. The hype around the program will once again be unreal. And now, we will get to celebrate that in Hooptown USA.
That very much might not be the case next season. Drew Timme and Rasir Bolton are gone. Julian Strawther is likely gone. Any combination of Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman, Anton Watson, and on and on, could also join in an early departure. The Zags are sitting on the peak of a mountain currently, and as we all know in college basketball, the winds on that peak are prone to the swings of early departures/recruiting. Not to say that Gonzaga is guaranteed to take a severe dip in the 2023-24 season, but the odds of them being another championship caliber squad aren’t as high.
And that 2023-24 game will be played at Kentucky. The Zags get the big game, at nearly home, while the team is at the peak. They repay the favor the following season.
So yeah, of course it would have been much cooler if the game was played at The Kennel. The fact that it is just a few blocks down the street won’t make too much of a difference. It affords the opportunity for the rest of Spokane to actually attend a Gonzaga game for once in their lives. And if it means that the we get to see two top five teams battling it out at home, than that is totally fine.