SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah men’s basketball program has added Kentucky to its nonconference schedule, the university announced Thursday.
In an effort to increase the strength of the nonconference schedule — a point that has been criticized recently for the lackluster options the last couple years — Utah has scheduled a two-game series with perennial favorite Kentucky. The news was originally reported by ESPN700’s Bill Riley on Tuesday before the university made it official Thursday.
Utah will open up the series at Rupp Arena on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, and then travel to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for a neutral site game on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2019.
“We feel that this will be a great opportunity to challenge our team early in the season,” head coach Larry Krystkowiak said in a statement. “This is one of the elite programs in the nation, who year-in and year-out, are ranked No. 1 in attendance. This will be a good experience for us to compete at a high level and help us prepare for league play.”
The NCAA Tournament committee this year showed a preference to teams with a strong nonconference schedule. Although conference play remains an important aspect, it was overshadowed by having a tough nonconference schedule.
Krystkowiak was frustrated by the committee’s approach to scheduling when he saw the Pac-12’s ninth-best team, Arizona State, make it to the NCAA Tournament this year due to a strong nonconference schedule.
“When it comes time to select some of those games, we’ve tried to do what’s right for a particular team as you go into it,” Krystkowiak said in March. “Maybe if it’s a coin flip of who you’ll play, you’re going to probably bite off more than you can chew because, apparently, if you can beat Kansas and Xavier in the preseason and finish ninth in our conference, that’s going to be all she takes. Maybe by the time that happens, they’ll change the rules on us again.”
The upcoming game will be the first time since 2005 when they met in the Sweet 16 that the two programs have played. It will be the 12th meeting overall between the two programs.
Kentucky shattered Utah’s hopes of an NCAA title in 1998 after defeating the Utes 78-69 in the championship game. Utah had a 10-point halftime lead but only scored 28 points in the second half while giving up 47 in the loss to the Wildcats. It’s the last time the Utes have made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament championship game.