Tomorrow is not only New Years Eve, but more importantly, for me at least, the Louisville Kentucky basketball game.
#3 vs. #4. A clash of two very good teams that will make or break two fan bases seasons.
Whether or not it can be justified, this game will determine a great deal about what each fan base will think of their team and the season at hand. It may be just one game in the grand scheme of things, and both of these teams should reach greater heights this year no matter the outcome of tomorrow’s game, but for the winner, there is a year’s worth of bragging rights on the line.
I hate that I let myself become so emotionally attached to one particular game each year, but when you are in the middle of it, it is hard not to. Growing up in Louisville, I was involved in countless arguments of who was better. There is no question that Kentucky has a more storied history. You can’t argue against seven national championships and 14 final four appearances. Only UCLA and North Carolina can claim that type of success.
Louisville however, is still a top 10 all time program. They have two national championships and eight final four’s of their own. Apparently many in Big Blue Nation have forgotten about that in their recent “Louisville doesn’t exist” campaign (more on this below) started by their classy coach.
Even though the two didn’t start playing regularly until 1983, there was always a rivalry there. They called the first matchup in 1983 the dream game. For years, Kentucky did not want to play Louisville. They felt like they were above that. Former Louisville coach Denny Crum tried for years to re-start a series with Kentucky, but they wanted nothing to do with it. After nearly 25 years, Louisville fans got their wish as the two met in the elite eight. Louisville won the game by 12 and thereafter, the Governor of Kentucky mandated the two teams play regularly.
Over the years, this rivalry has grown and gotten much more intense. The biggest leap it took was undoubtedly in 2001 when Louisville hired Rick Pitino as their head coach following his very forgettable stint with the Celtics. Kentucky fans were absolutely outraged that this happened. The coach that revived them was now at the helm of their bitter rivals.
It grew yet again when Marvin Stone transferred from Kentucky to Louisville. He had a rather disappointing tenure during his time at Kentucky, but put together a solid senior year for the Cards. Much like with Pitino, Kentucky fans couldn’t believe that one of their own could jump ship to “Little Brother”. Stone had his shining moment with Louisville during the 2002 game. In only his third game with the team, he put up 16 points and seven rebounds helping to lead Louisville to an 81-63 victory.
The rivalry grew yet again in 2009 when Kentucky hired John Calipari as their head coach. After the dumpster fire that was Billy Gillespie’s tenure, the Cats finally got their guy. Only Calipari’s ability to get final fours taken away could match Kentucky’s tainted history. All kidding aside, this hire was a something a rebirth for Kentucky and for this series.
It’s no secret that Pitino and Calipari are not the best of friends. They have bantered back and forth over the last few seasons, and while not openly bashing the other, it’s fairly obvious that was the intention.
Prior to the season starting, Calipari stated (at a banquet in Louisville no less) the following: “it’s a unique thing. There’s no other state, none, that’s as connected to their basketball program as this one. Because those other states have other programs. Michigan has Michigan State, California has UCLA, North Carolina has Duke. It’s Kentucky throughout this whole state, and that’s what makes us unique.”
This spawned the current “Louisville doesn’t exist” campaign. This, as expected, drew the ire of Louisville fans everywhere. It’s funny that a team that Kentucky and their fans spend so much time worrying about apparently doesn’t exist in his and now subsequently the their eyes.
Pitino countered a few days later with the following: “Four things I’ve learned in my 59 years about people. I ignore the jealous, I ignore the malicious, I ignore the ignorant and I ignore the paranoid.” This was slightly less direct but still got the job done.
For me, this rivalry has been something of a roller coaster with no real middle ground. There is no better feeling (in regular season sports) than beating Kentucky and there is no worse feeling than loosing the game.
I remember being 10 years old attending the annual game in Rupp Arena with my dad. Not only did the classy fans welcome us by throwing things at us, but a far superior Kentucky team (Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Jamaal Magloire, etc) won the game by 30. I totally get hating the other team, but throwing things at a kid and his dad? Come on now. As much as I care about Louisville basketball and winning this game, you couldn’t pay me enough to go see this game in Rupp ever again.
On the flip side, in 2008, Edgar Sosa buried what would be known as the shot heard around the Commonwealth. Sosa had been in and out of the doghouse in the early part of his junior year and amidst rumors of him transferring, he hit the biggest shot of his career.
Yea that happened. I still get chills watching it.
There have been many great battles in this series, and while it may not get the national attention that Duke and North Carolina get, I find it hard to believe that that rivalry could be more intense. There is something to be said about only playing once a year instead of two or maybe three times. It’s a once a year battle for 365 days of bragging rights. As great as it is to win however, both sides need to remember that ending the season in New Orleans is the goal for both of these teams and one game won’t change that.
Go Cards. Beat Kentucky.