Smith - Kentucky's schedule a 'challenging' one

August 08, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky, the nation's winningest team the last two seasons, will face what coach Tubby Smith calls another "challenging schedule" this season with non-conference games against Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville in addition to 16 Southeastern Conference games.

The schedule was released Saturday even though no starting times for SEC games have been determined because the TV schedule has not been set.

"Usually it is the conference TV package that keeps us from having the schedule ready sooner," said Kentucky associate athletics director Rob Mullens. "That's basically what we have been waiting on."

The Cats, who have won 59 games the last two seasons, had been waiting for a court ruling that would have allowed them to play in an exempt tournament to start the season.


However, because the court has not ruled, UK has gone to its secondary plan and will open regular-season play Nov. 28 against Coppin State.

"We had pretty much set Aug. 1 for the cutoff date on waiting any longer on the court ruling," Mullens said.

The Cats will play at North Carolina Dec. 4, host Indiana Dec. 11 in Louisville's Freedom Hall and play at Louisville Dec. 18. Kentucky also has a non-conference game with Kansas in Rupp Arena Jan. 9 to start a two-year, home-and-home series.

Kentucky is college basketball's all-time winningest team with 1,876 wins while Kansas is second at 1,825 and North Carolina third at 1,824.

"It's certainly a challenging schedule," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.

"When you play Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana and Louisville in non-conference, then turn around and line up against the SEC, it will test your basketball team."

Cats on national TV 12 times

UK will appear on national television 12 times. CBS will open its college basketball coverage with Kentucky's game at North Carolina Dec. 4 and also carry games at Kansas, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida as well as a home game with LSU. CBS will also show the UK-Indiana game in Louisville.

ESPN will carry SEC games at Tennessee and South Carolina as well as home conference games with Florida and Mississippi State.

A fifth ESPN game will be against Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals.

"Because CBS does not have a contract with Conference USA and the game is at Louisville, Louisville controls who shows the game. CBS tried to buy the rights from ESPN like it has before, but ESPN didn't want to sell," said UK assistant athletics director Scott Stricklin.

Stricklin said finalized television assignments and starting times for all SEC games should be released soon.

Kentucky will play 15 of its 27 regular-season games at home.

With only two returning starters - Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike - Smith had indicated he would like an easier early-season schedule to break in his highly-touted recruiting class.

UK will host Georgia State Nov. 26 and Tennessee Tech Nov. 30 in addition to playing Ball State in Cincinnati at U.S. Bank Arena on Nov. 23. The Cats will also have two home exhibition games against Kentucky Wesleyan and Northern Kentucky before they play Coppin State.

That's five games in Rupp Arena and one on a neutral court before the Cats play at North Carolina. Kentucky had only 13 home games all of last year.

The Cats also have home games with Morehead, William & Mary and Campbell in December.

Mullens did avoid scheduling games on Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

"That was a major objective even though Christmas and New Year's Day are both on Saturdays," Mullens said.

Kentucky opens practice Oct. 15 with Big Blue Madness.

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