Skip to content

Now’s when Kentucky-Louisville rivalry reaches another level

Mar 26, 2012, 9:02 AM EDT

101230-pitno-calipari-combo-hmed-1120a_nbcsports-grid-8x2

Get ready for the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry to rise to a level usually only reserved for the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Yankees-Red Sox or Celtics-Lakers.

That’s what happens when the nation’s most devoted state for college hoops – sorry, Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina – places its marquee programs into the game’s biggest stage. It’d be enough simply to have the Cardinals and Wildcats both in New Orleans. But playing each other with a spot in the title game on the line? There’s never been a rivalry game at this level before.

That’s basketball mania.

“It’s what everybody wanted, I guess, in terms of the public and the media,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “This is what you guys live for, so this gives you plenty to write about all week. They’ve got great players. It’s great for our state in terms of the recognition it brings to our state. Two great basketball programs, two great coaches.

Ah, yes. The coaches. That amplifies things a bit more.

Rick Pitino used to coach at Kentucky. Now he’s at Louisville, which doesn’t sit well with the fans. John Calipari spent the last three years winning games and charming Big Blue Nation, both of which go hand in hand. The two spent the summer taking shots at each other, all of which simply stokes the fires of one of the games’ already heated rivalries.

So what’s up with these two? There’s a history between the two coaches that’s difficult to detail everything, but here’s a helpful anecdote from David Jones of The Patriots-News regarding a 1992 game between Massachusetts and Kentucky. Calipari, coaching the less-talented Minutemen would eventually lose the Sweet 16 games, but it wasn’t without Calipari doing everything he could to cajole the refs.

An excerpt:

Finally, during a lull in play, Calipari still barking, Pitino yelled down the sideline at him to get his attention: “John!” Calipari turned. And Pitino mouthed with a pleading gesture, “Shut uuupp.” It wasn’t derogatory or condescending at all but more advice from a respected older brother, like: You dope, you already let this sawed-off old ref take the game from you. Don’t make it worse by getting tossed. It’s over. Just chill out.

Perhaps that’s why Pitino said recently “we don’t send each other Christmas cards,” because there’s no need. They coach at rival schools. There’s no need to be friendly.

But that also creates an interesting dynamic for the next few days. Kentucky’s the favorite. A big favorite. A loss to Louisville would be one of the biggest kicks to the … well, it’d hurt.

From Gary Parrish:

“There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us,” Pitino said. “You’ve got to watch. They’ve got to put the fences up on the bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville.”

Most notably Calipari.

The man who has now taken three different schools to a total of four Final Fours — yes, I know two of them have been vacated, but whatever — did a nice job of deflecting the spotlight that’ll shine on him and Pitino this week, and he said over and over again Sunday that he’s looking at this game no differently than any other.

But that’s impossible. And the truth is that, on some level, this matchup that is a sportswriter’s dream has to be Calipari’s worst nightmare.

And every Kentucky fan.

No team wants to lose in the Final Four. Especially not a favorite from Kentucky, featuring the best roster the program’s seen since its famed 1996 squad. And especially not to its rival.

That’s how you stoke a rivalry

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Latest Posts
  1. Norman Powell sees defense, rebounding as keys for UCLA

    Aug 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Norman Powell AP

    After being one of the Pac-12’s most improved players last season, Powell looks to lead a team hoping to improve defensively and on the glass.

  2. Report: College of Charleston names new interim coach

    Aug 1, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The College of Charleston has found a replacement for Doug Wojcik during his suspension.

  3. Four-star 2015 center Tyler Davis loses weight to transform game

    Aug 1, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    Tyler Davis has lost 70 pounds and evolved into one of the nation’s best big men.

  4. Louisville commit Raymond Spalding doesn’t feel pressure as the hometown kid

    Aug 1, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    (Scott Phillips/NBC Sports) (Scott Phillips/NBC Sports)

    Louisville commit Raymond Spalding doesn’t feel pressure despite being a hometown kid.

  5. Freshman center Trayvon Reed no longer in Maryland’s plans following arrest

    Aug 1, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    Mark Turgeon Mark Turgeon

    The 7-foot-1 center was arrested on charges including resisting arrest and second-degree assault.

  6. Power forward Michael Jacobson becomes Nebraska’s first 2015 commitment

    Aug 1, 2014, 12:57 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The 6-foot-8 Iowan averaged 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as a high school junior.

  7. High school, college counselor rosters for adidas Nations released

    Aug 1, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT

    Adidas Hoops Adidas Hoops

    Among the high school players in attendance are Jaylen Brown (2015), Thon Maker (2016) and Dennis Smith Jr. (2016).

  8. Wisconsin releases video of players receiving Final Four rings [VIDEO]

    Aug 1, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    You’ve seen the pictures of the rings. Now see the player’s reactions once they got them.

  9. North Carolina asks court to move Mary Willingham lawsuit to federal court

    Jul 31, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT

    Image (1) university-of-north-carolina-logo-thumb-220x177-1144.jpg for post 315

    Mary Willingham’s lawsuit came to light in early July, with the NCAA deciding to reopen its investigation at around the same time.

  10. 2016 guard Josh Jackson announces his new high school [VIDEO]

    Jul 31, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    (Scott Phillips/NBC Sports) (Scott Phillips/NBC Sports)

    The explosive shooting guard’s new school is located in Napa, California.

  11. Xavier’s new court design? Cincy’s skyline, but not chili (PHOTO)

    Jul 31, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    @slrussell @slrussell

    The court will be redesigned by the end of the month.

  12. Recruitment starting to pick up for top 30 point forward Braxton Blackwell

    Jul 31, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    Blackwell is a member of the Class of 2016 but is already hearing from some notable programs.

  13. Rick Brunson charged with attempted sexual assault, battery

    Jul 31, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    Vernon Hills Police Department Vernon Hills Police Department

    Brunson is the father of a top 15 recruit and a potential hire for a program in the AAC.

  14. How can Wichita State build on the two best years in program history?

    Jul 31, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Wichita State is coming off of a Final Four and an undefeated regular season. What happens if they can’t match that success again?

  15. Grant Hill donates $1.25 million to Duke

    Jul 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    It’s the second time Hill has donated a million to the school

  16. N.C. State releases their 2014-2015 non-conference schedule

    Jul 31, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    It’s not that strong, but it could have been much worse.