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UK meets Texas in Rupp Arena on Jan. 30 in SEC/Big 12 Challenge; Texas finished 19-12 last season


By Eric Lindsey
University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky will play host to Texas on Jan. 30 in Rupp Arena as a part of the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

The matchup will mark just the third all-time meeting between the two schools.

It will also be a reunion of sorts for Kentucky staffer Jai Lucas, who came on board during the offseason to be UK’s special assistant to the head coach/recruiting coordinator after seven seasons in Austin, Texas.

The announcement of the Texas game is the first official confirmation on the revised 2020-21 UK men’s basketball schedule. Kentucky has not yet released its new 2020-21 schedule after the NCAA Division I Council recently approved moving the first contest date in Division I men’s basketball to Nov. 25.

John Calipari will lead UK against Texas on Jan. 30 at Rupp Arena. (Photo by Tammie Brown, Kentucky Today)

The Southeastern Conference has established Dec. 29 and 30 as the new start dates for the conference schedule. With the league scheduling framework set and the maximum number of games set, UK will have nine non-conference games — if it plays in a multi-team event that includes three teams — to work with. That includes the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

The full schedule is expected to be released soon. Kentucky is hopeful to honor many of its previously announced non-conference games.

The 2021 slate of SEC/Big 12 Challenge games will mark the eighth season of the annual event between the SEC and the Big 12 and the sixth straight in which all 10 games of the challenge will be played on the same day. The four SEC teams not participating will play each other in conference games the same day.

Ten of the SEC’s 14 teams will participate in the 2021 challenge against all 10 of the Big 12’s institutions, with each conference hosting five games apiece.

All 10 games will air across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU and will be available on the ESPN app. In addition to game times, network designations will be announced later for the challenge.

The challenge has been as good as advertised in recent years. In 2020, the two conferences went 5-5 in the challenge, and over the last four seasons, the leagues are 20-20 vs. one another.

UK is 4-3 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and has won three straight games in the event. The Wildcats went into a hostile environment in Lubbock, Texas, last season and defeated the nationally ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders 78-76 in overtime thanks to a monster game from 2020 NBA Draft hopeful Nick Richards.

The SEC, of course, has been one of the best conferences in the country over the last three seasons. After a league-high eight programs made the NCAA Tournament in 2018, another seven earned a berth in 2019. The SEC advanced two teams to the Elite Eight, one to the Final Four and posted a 12-7 record in NCAA Tournament play in 2019. The league was expecting another big postseason haul before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the postseason in 2020.

Kentucky and Texas last met Dec. 5, 2014, in Rupp Arena in the second season of SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The top-ranked Wildcats won 63-51 over the No. 6/7 Longhorns behind 21 points and 12 rebounds from All-American Willie Cauley-Stein.

UK’s Keion Brooks Jr. averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 31 appearances. (UK photo)

The only other matchup between the two schools was in December 1993 during the Maui Invitational. UK also won that game, 86-61, in Hawaii.

Texas was 19-12 last season and 9-9 in league play. The Longhorns are as experienced as any team in the country. They return all 14 of their players who appeared in a game in 2019-20 and add to the roster a top-10 recruit in forward Greg Brown III. Included in the returners are leading scorer Matt Coleman III, who averaged 12.7 points per game and the team’s leading rebounder at 8.2 boards per game in Jericho Simms. Coleman has started in 101 of his 102 career games played and was an All-Big 12 third team selection a season ago.

Five UK underclassmen declared for the NBA Draft after last season, but head coach John Calipari and his staff have brought in the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class and three key transfers.

Incoming transfers Olivier Sarr and Jacob Toppin are expected to make an immediate impact for UK. Sarr averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season for Wake Forest.

Toppin, brother of former Dayton standout Obi Toppin, averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 rebounds at Rhode Island last year.

Sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr., who averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 31 appearances, is UK’s top returning player.

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