Belmont set to play in another of college basketball's top venues

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 4:01pm

Playing in college basketball's Taj Mahals is nothing new for Belmont.

Two years ago, the Bruins opened at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. This past winter, Belmont ventured into basketball's birthplace and played in Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse — for the second time in four years. A trip is planned during the 2014-15 season to play Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

So when the Bruins walk into historic Rupp Arena this upcoming season, they’ll be able to scratch another one off the basketball bucket list. Belmont will play national power Kentucky on Dec. 21, the Wildcats announced on Wednesday when they released their non-conference schedule. The programs have never met.

“We are excited about the opportunity to play a historic program like Kentucky in a historic venue like Rupp Arena,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “Our philosophy in non-conference scheduling is well-known. We look for chances to play outstanding competition and provide memorable experiences for our players. This certainly qualifies.”

Belmont is coming off a 26-7 season, a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and is the defending Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament champ. The Bruins, however, graduated five seniors, including three starters and guard tandem Ian Clark, the co-OVC player of the year, and Kerron Johnson.

After winning the 2012 national championship, Kentucky went 21-12, took second in the Southeastern Conference and lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris. The Wildcats, however, will once again feature an entirely new team. Eight signees, including six McDonald’s All-Americans, make up the consensus No. 1 signing class in 2013 with a chance to still snag the No. 1 recruit in the country, Andrew Wiggins.

Kentucky adds to an already formidable non-conference schedule for Belmont.

The Bruins open the season by participating in the 2013 Tip-Off Tournament. Belmont opens on Nov. 11 against Richmond of the Atlantic-10 Conference before playing on another big stage — the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel, Hill, N.C. The Bruins will play North Carolina on Nov. 17 before concluding the tournament in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. They’ll play Holy Cross of the Patriot League on Nov. 23 and play either Hofstra or Hartford the next day.