Series: Kentucky leads 5-0, first meeting in Louisville, KY.
The Opponent: Entering the contest at 7-3, the Wildcats followed up a tough lost at Indiana (79-53, Dec. 10) with an impressive 73-61 win over No. 4 Louisville last Saturday at Rupp Arena. All-America candidate Rajon Rondo leads his squad with a 16.6 points per game average along with a team-best 9.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Patrick Sparks is the team's second leading scorer at 9.7 points per game.
WHY LOUISVILLE? ... Traditionally, Kentucky has played at least one non-conference opponent at Louisville's Freedom Hall. The Wildcats have won 22 of the last 25 non-conference, non-Louisville contests at Freedom Hall including the last 15 straight. Indiana has been Kentucky's most common victim, falling seven straight times since the 1992-93 season. The Wildcats have played in Louisville at least once a year since the 1908.
TOPPLING RANKED OPPONENTS ... Iona looks for its fourth win over a Top 25 opponent in the last 25-plus seasons when they take on No. 19/20 Kentucky tonight. Led by current head coach Jeff Ruland, the Gaels upset No. 2 and eventual national champion Louisville 77-60 Feb. 21, 1980 at Madison Square Garden. Also at the World's Most Famous Arena, Iona defeated then No. 23 North Carolina, 65-56, on Dec. 27, 2002 when the current senior class were freshmen. Earlier this season, the Maroon & Gold shocked No. 23 Iowa State 89-72 in Ames, IA. Coach Ruland has been the only person present for all three Top 25 wins.
A DECADE OF EXCELLENCE ... Since the 1995-96 season, Iona has posted a 191-121 (.612). The win total and winning percentage is the highest among 13 Div. I schools in the Metropolitan New York City, New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester area. Hofstra (178-130, .578), St. John's (174-139, .556), St. Francis (155-136, .533), Manhattan (155-138, .529) round out the top five. The Gaels have had five postseason appearances (three NCAA, two NIT) in that time frame which is tied with the Big East's St. John's (four NCAA, one NIT) and second to only Seton Hall (two NCAA, four NIT).
NO, NO... SEVEN'S THE KEY NUMBER ... Iona is 7-0 for the first time since 1984-85 and just the second time in school history. The '84-85 squad - led by former Gael greats Rory Grimes, Tony Hargraves and Bobby Coleman - started the year 7-0 and won 17 of the first 18 contests en route to a 26-5 overall record. The last time the Gaels won eight straight was during its longest winning streak under coach Jeff Ruland which lasted nine games from Jan. 19-Feb. 16, 2000. Iona's best ever start came 56 years ago during the 1949-50 campaign.
THE NEWEST GAEL ... Sophomore John Kelly is eligible for the first time for tonight's contest after sitting out the previous two semesters due to NCAA Transfer regulations. The 7-0 center will add depth to Iona's already solid frontcourt rotation. Kelly appeared in two games last season for Penn State, scoring seven points in eight minutes before deciding to transfer to Iona.
A SHRINKING CLUB ... Heading into Thursday's matchups, the Gaels are currently one of 15 schools in NCAA Div. I that has not yet recorded a loss. At 7-0, Iona joins Clemson, No. 2 Connecticut, No. 1 Duke, No. 5 Florida, No. 13 George Washington, No. 6 Illinois, Indiana State, La Salle, No. 24 Ohio St., Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Texas A&M, No. 3 Villanova, and No. 9 Washington as teams are currently undefeated.