A COVID pause has provided an opportunity for a huge charitable act. Hours after No. 20 Kentucky lost Wednesday's annual rivalry game vs. Louisville, the Wildcats were able to maneuver and save a game on its schedule by welcoming in a stranger in its own state.
Western Kentucky (8-4) will take Louisville's place and face Kentucky on Wednesday. The two programs haven't met at Rupp Arena since 2001, when WKU beat the fourth-ranked Wildcats 64-52.
Coincidentally enough, WKU is coming off a win Saturday over none other than Louisville. So the Hilltoppers are presented with a most-rare opportunity to beat the two big-brother in-state programs in consecutive games.
Kentucky does not go out of its way to schedule WKU, as the 'Toppers are an in-state mid-major foil. There is little to gain from UK scheduling such a game in normal times. But COVID changes many things for many people, and in light of what's happened in Kentucky -- and the western side of the Bluegrass State recently -- UK coach John Calipari saw an opportunity for the greater good. Wednesday's UK-WKU game at Rupp Arena will double as an effort to again raise money for tornado relief for the region. A source told CBS Sports that the university will again raise money through the Red Cross, which has already netted nearly $4.4 million after a telethon was organized on Dec. 4.
"I know our fans were looking forward to the game with our intrastate rival," Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said. "In lieu of that game, Western Kentucky and the University of Kentucky will come together to provide some relief for our state as we work through the tragedy of the last couple of weeks in Western Kentucky."
Added UK coach John Calipari: "We were all disappointed to learn we won't be able to play Louisville on Wednesday, but I am thrilled we were able to come together quickly and put this game together for everyone in this state. I want to thank Western Kentucky for working with us on short notice. Not only will this be a great test for our team, but we will be able to provide aid to the Western Kentucky region and lift the spirits of some special people who really need it."
Kentucky will also continue to hold its holiday toy-donation drive.
Wednesday's game is the seventh meeting ever between the Wildcats and Hilltoppers. Kentucky leads 4-2, having won the most recent one in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.