WKU Spring Game: White 28-21 over Red

Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton talks Saturday to reporters after the Hilltoppers’ annual spring game at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

LOUISVILLE – Western Kentucky’s desire to compete with Power 5 programs will add a local twist late this year when the Hilltoppers play Louisville in football and basketball.

Tyson Helton and Rick Stansbury hope it’s something both universities can maintain consistently beyond the current contracts. WKU’s three biggest revenue sports – football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball – will play the Louisville Cardinals in either Nashville or up Interstate 65 in 2019 with returns to Diddle Arena scheduled in coming years.

Helton and Stansbury met with alumni in Louisville on Monday as part of an annual alumni event and expressed desire to keep Louisville on the schedule often.

“Anytime you can have an opportunity to play against one of the traditionally rich programs like Louisville, it’s good for anybody,” said Stansbury, WKU’s men’s basketball coach.

WKU football will play the second of a three-game series with the Cardinals on Sept. 14 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Hilltoppers lost 20-17 at Louisville last year and will return to Cardinal Stadium in 2020.

WKU last played in the stadium in the 2013 season opener defeating Kentucky 35-26 in the debut of head coaches (Bobby Petrino and Mark Stoops) for both programs. This fall will mark the first season for Helton and new Cardinals coach Scott Satterfield.

WKU’s current roster has 11 players from Louisville or a nearby county.

“I’d love to be able to play a Louisville or Kentucky every year,” Helton said. “I think it’s great for the state and great for college football. I would love to see that happen. I’m ecstatic we get to play Louisville, a great Power 5 team and get to play them down in Nashville.”

“I would love moving forward to have those kinds of games. Vanderbilt was right down the road from us when I was here before and we had a great series with them. I hope as the years go on, we can continue that for sure.”

Women’s basketball will return to Louisville this fall after hosting the Cardinals in the season opener in 2018. The Lady Toppers have consistently scheduled periodic home-and-homes with Louisville, but men’s basketball took a little longer to get back together.

The men’s series will begin in December with a neutral-site game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Then it will continue the next three seasons at the Yum! Center (December 2020), Diddle Arena (December ’21) and again in Louisville (December ’22).

In 2014, WKU and UofL originally agreed to a three-game series that would have started in 2017. That contract was amended in 2017 to become a four-game series starting in 2019.

The Hilltoppers and Cardinals met eight straight years from 2008-15 – two meetings in Nashville and Diddle Arena with the other four taking place in Louisville. The Dec. 20, 2014, meeting at Diddle Arena is remembered for a first-half scuffle where Louisville star Montrezl Harrell was ejected for throwing a punch. Then-Cardinals coach Rick Pitino and former WKU coach Ray Harper exchanged words at midcourt.

That altercation occurred two months after the schools already signed the contract to renew the series that would include another game at Diddle Arena. The Cardinals, who lead the all-time series 40-39, will return to Bowling Green in 2021.

Stewart reflects on golf one year after Hatchett’s passing

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of former WKU men’s golf coach Phillip Hatchett. Hilltopper golfers dedicated the season to his memory and turned in one of the best team and individual performances in program history.

“That was obviously, hands down, one of the worst days we’ve ever had,” WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said Monday. “It was truly a tragic situation. Through adversity the cream rises to the top and I think that’s what happened with our golf program.”

Redshirt senior Billy Tom Sargent turned in the best individual season of any Hilltopper golfer by tying for 11th in the NCAA Championships last month. WKU finished with a team stroke average of 89.4, which was the lowest since 1981 and is believed to be the lowest average in program history.

Hatchett was a 1985 graduate of WKU and four-year letterman with the golf program. He took over coaching his alma mater in 2010 and led a resurgence in the program that carried on after his death.

Hatchett was 55 when he died June 17 after being struck by a vehicle while riding a bicycle in Logan County. Chan Metts was hired in August as the new coach.

Local Hilltoppers who took lessons under Hatchett have won area tournaments since his passing. Glasgow native and WKU rising junior Chase Landrum won the Pickens Amateur Tournament at CrossWinds Golf Course just weeks after Hatchett’s passing and redshirt sophomore Dawson McDaniel won the Paul Walker Memorial Golf Tournament earlier this month.

“The players supported his wife, Beth, and supported each other,” Stewart said. “Chan Metts came in and did a very good job coming into a situation nobody predicted would be open and available and I think it made for a unique and special year.”{&end}

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Covering high school sports and Western Kentucky women's basketball for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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