WKU, Louisville Close to Finalizing Four-Game Series

By: James Brandenburg Email
By: James Brandenburg Email

The last time Western Kentucky University met Louisville in men's basketball, the setting wasn't exactly friendly.

The Cardinals beat WKU 93-63 on Dec. 4, 2003 in Nashville after previously backing out of a deal to play in Bowling Green during the 2002-03 season. At the time, it seemed hard to imagine the two programs reaching an accord to play again.

But, as Louisville coach Rick Pitino told reporters Thursday, "Husbands and wives make up all the time."

Such is the case for the Hilltoppers and Cardinals, who are close to a four-year deal starting in 2008-09 to play on the basketball floor.

The proposed series would start at Nashville's Sommet Center, with WKU visiting Louisville's Freedom Hall in 2009-10. The Cardinals would then visit E.A. Diddle Arena for the first time since 1990 in 2010-11, with WKU completing the series at Louisville's new downtown arena the following season.

"I'm excited for our fans, our university and our players," said WKU head coach Ken McDonald. "It's something you can build on in recruiting; so it we can nail everything down and move forward, I'm very excited."

Talks between the schools began when Darrin Horn was still coach at WKU. Pitino said a series with the Hilltoppers was attractive because of WKU's style of play and because he had a relationship with Horn stemming from Horn's connections to Ralph Willard, a former Pitino assistant who coached Horn at WKU from 1991 to 1994.

"The Louisville conversations were already underway when coach Horn departed for South Carolina," WKU athletic director Dr. Wood Selig said. "We've just kept them going and we're about to the point where we can sign a contract."

Selig said he and Horn met at midseason and discussed strengthening the Hilltoppers non-conference schedule, which was ranked 98th in the country last season according to kenpom.com. McDonald said in his introductory press conference he wanted to schedule aggressively; both said they believe a series with Louisville to be a move toward that goal.

"This is a big step in the right direction," said McDonald. "It says a lot that coach Pitino has the respect to look at us as a good game for his program."

Selig credited some of Louisville's interest in scheduling the Hilltoppers to WKU's move to Division I Football Bowl Subdivision play. "When you look at who schedules whom, typically (FBS) institutions play (FBS) institutions," Selig said. "Now that we're a (FBS) institution, we're definitely on the same field - the same par - as Louisville and Kentucky within the Commonwealth (of Kentucky)."

Selig said a few details must be worked out to finalize the deal - specifically allocation of seats for a game in Nashville and potential dates of games. But he called the schools "very, very far along in that process."

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