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For the first time since 1968-69 season, the UK and Indiana men’s basketball teams will not meet next season.
Indiana confirmed the end to the series in a news release Thursday.
“We wanted to keep it at a neutral site,” said UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. “It gave us a chance to sort of return to some of the games roots, played in Louisville in Freedom Hall or the Yum Center or something like that. There was no interest on their part to do something like that.”
The schools alternated neutral-site games from the 1992 season to 2006 in Louisville and Indianapolis. Since the 2007 season, the schools have played at Rupp Arena in Lexington and Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
Barnhart said Indiana had contacted the UK administration about 30 minutes before he spoke to reporters following a news conference announcing a new contract for UK women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell.
In the new release, Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass disagreed with UK’s desire for a neutral site series.
“While we understand that such neutral site games could be quite lucrative, we think the series should be continued as it is, home and home,” he said. “Playing on campus enables our students to attend these marquee games which we believe is a great component of the overall college experience. Playing in the historic venues that are Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena is also a tremendous experience for our student-athletes.”
The Wildcats only regular-season loss of the 2011-12 championship run came at Indiana. Following the buzzer-beating shot that led to the upset of the then No. 1 Wildcats, Indiana fans stormed the Assembly Hall court while UK players and coaches were still trying to reach the locker room.
Barnhart would not say that behavior had anything to do with the desire for a neutral-site series, but he admitted UK head coach John Calipari had reservations about playing the series in home arenas.
“I don’t think he was really thrilled about going back to Bloomington to be honest with you,” Barnhart said. “I think he wanted to go back to the neutral-neutral scene, and that’s OK.”
Barnhart noted that a home-and-home series prevented UK fans from attending the game every other year.
“We get 100 tickets (at Assemby Hall) — 50 behind the bench and 50 up top,” he said. “So a lot of our fans are getting left out. In the alternate years, our fans are getting locked out of that game. I would have at least liked to have the opportunity to have half our fans every year be in that venue and have a chance to go to the game.”
With the decision to end the Indiana series, Barnhart and Calipari are still working to finalize the 2012-13 schedule. Barnhart said the annual matchup with North Carolina is also in jeopardy.
Asked about a report that the UNC game had been canceled, Barnhart did not mince words.
“I’d say that right now that’s probably closer to being true than not, but we’ll see.”
Barnhart said he and Calipari have made some headway in filling out the upcoming schedule.
“The home schedule is very, very important,” he said. “Our fans pay a lot of their discretionary money to come to Rupp Arena and to be a part of that. I want to make sure they’ve got a good schedule to be able to walk into Rupp Arena and see.”
KyForward file photo