Providence’s leading scorer Bryce Hopkins played for Kentucky last season.

LEXINGTON — A familiar face will stand in the way of Kentucky’s attempt to win its first NCAA Tournament game since 2019 when the sixth-seeded Wildcats take on the 11th-seeded Providence Friars in Greensboro, North Carolina, Friday in an East Region Round of 64 matchup.

Bryce Hopkins, who played for the Wildcats last season, will be leading the Friars into battle against his former team after transferring to Providence after just one season in Lexington.

“Bryce is such a great kid, and he’s a terrific basketball player,” UK head coach John Calipari said Sunday. “He had an unbelievable year for them. So the guys smile. We all like him. A player that we enjoyed being around, and he is a wonderful person and so is his family.”

The family room inside Calipari’s residence lit up with chants of “B Hop” when the team found out it would get a chance to play Hopkins and his new team.

Eight of the Wildcats’ current players, including CJ Fredrick and Lance Ware, with teammates with the 6-foot-7 forward last season and built strong relationships.

“It’s gonna be fun. We’re really looking forward to competing against Bryce and seeing him,” Fredrick said. “He was one of our teammates. We love him.”

“Even though he transferred, he still has that bond with us. That’s our brother for life,” Ware added. “Obviously, he had a really good year. I’m a fan of his. The things that he is doing at Providence, I’m happy for him”

Hopkins played in 28 games for the Wildcats last season, averaging just 6.4 minutes of playing time in which he scored 2.1 points per game and averaged 1.4 rebounds. He scored a season-high 13 points in a home win over LSU but was not called upon off the bench during the Cats’ SEC Tournament semifinals loss to Tennessee or NCAA Tournament loss to Saint Peter’s.

Not seeing a chance for more playing time this season, he opted to enter the transfer portal, where he landed at Providence and has risen to stardom.

He earned first-team All-Big East honors this season as Hopkins enters the NCAA Tournament averaging 16.1 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

The Illinois native has put together two 29-point performances this season, including one over eventual Big Ten regular season champion and tournament champion Marquette, who will be the No. 2 seed in Kentucky and Providence’s East Region.

“God works in mysterious ways,” Hopkins said of facing Kentucky, speaking to local media in Providence. “Jut can’t wait to prepare for them and play them.

“I’ll say hello after the game, but before the game, I’m going to be locked in, going to try my best to take away their primaries and come out with that dub. We’re going to be playing hard, we’re going to have to box Oscar [Tshiebwe ] out and go from there.”

Providence put together a 21-11 regular season that included a 13-7 record in Big East play. The team cooled off near the end of the season, however, as it will enter play Friday on a three-game losing skid which included a loss to UCONN in its Big East Tournament opener.

The Friars are led by 2022 Big East and Naismith College Coach of the Year Ed Cooley.

“Ed and I have known each other,” Calipari said. “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.”

Tip-off between the Cats and Friars in what will be the ‘Bryce Hopkins Bowl’ is slated for 7:10 p.m. EST Friday.

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