The biggest storyline of Kentucky’s Round of 64 NCAA Tournament matchup with Providence is former Wildcat turned Big East All-First Team selection Bryce Hopkins facing his former team, but the game will also feature a battle between two former Naismith College Coach of the Year honorees.
John Calipari, who won the award three times (1996, 2008, 2015), will lead Kentucky into battle, while Ed Cooley who won the award last season, brings his hometown Friars back to March Madness.
“Ed and I have known each other,” Calipari said of Cooley Sunday. “He was an assistant as I was moving through the ranks at UMASS. I’ve known Ed. Coach of the year a year ago. Is a great communicator and motivator.
“He’s terrific,” Calipari said.
Friday’s matchup between Calipari and Cooley won’t be the first between the two award-winning coaches. The two have faced off three times, including two matchups between Kentucky and Providence, with Calipari owning a perfect 3-0 record.
The first matchup between the two coaches came on opening day of the 2008-09 season, with Calipari leading the Memphis Tigers and Cooley the head coach at Fairfield. Calipari’s Tigers, fresh off a trip to the National Championship Game, earned a 90-63 home win behind a 19-point effort off the bench from freshman Tyreke Evans, who would develop into the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft the following June.
On Dec. 1, 2013, Calipari and Cooley matched up for the first time at each other’s current stops as Kentucky earned a 79-65 win over Providence in a neutral site contest at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. UK took a narrow 39-35 lead into halftime and then put its foot on the gas in the second half, outscoring the Friars 40-30 to finish off the victory. James Young scored a team-high 18 points for Kentucky in the win.
The two teams would meet again the following season at Rupp Arena on Nov. 30, with both teams entering play 6-0 on the season. Like a year earlier, Kentucky took a slim lead into halftime but, in the second half, pulled away as the Cats outscored the Friars 32-16 in the game’s final 20 minutes to close out a low-scoring 58-38 win. UK held Providence to just 39 shot attempts in the game and a 28.2% shooting percentage. UK got 11 points each from Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns as the team picked up its seventh win in what later extended to a 38-game winning streak to head into the Final Four 38-0 on the season.
UK is 3-0 all-time against Providence, as it also defeated the Friars in the 1976 NIT behind a 28-point effort from star Jack Givens.
Both Calipari and Cooley will lead teams limping into the tournament as Providence has lost three straight games while UK has lost two of three, both of which coming to a Vanderbilt team that did not make the NCAA Tournament field.
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