Saturday, Kentucky plays Louisville in the Final Four.
Those of you who aren’t interested, more power to you. I have no beef with you.
But let me tell you now, you’re going to get tired of people like me over the next few days. That’s assuming you haven’t already since UK defeated Baylor on Sunday, setting up this massive intrastate matchup on college basketball’s penultimate stage.
If you’re against us, it might be better for you if you just took a trip, ‘cause we’re definitely not going to shut up about it.
It stands to reason that UK and UofL, two historically strong basketball programs, would have a longstanding rivalry. The campuses are only 78 miles apart.
However, it might surprise some to learn that Saturday’s meeting will be only the 44th between the teams (Kentucky currently leads the series 29-14).
The teams played seven times between 1913-16, then twice in 1922 and only three times between 1948-59.
A 24-year dry spell ended on March 26, 1983, when the Cardinals topped the Wildcats in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. UK returned the favor in the next season’s Sweet Sixteen, the same year the annual regular-season rivalry was renewed.
Since then, however, the teams haven’t met in the postseason. Saturday, the winner moves on to the national championship game. The stakes have never been higher in a UK/UofL game.
And that’s saying a lot. I speak from personal experience and anecdote here, but for many fans of each team, the success or failure of a season has hinged at least somewhat on the outcome of this game.
Example: UK’s last national championship was earned in 1998. That season, Louisville won the rivalry game. And Cards fans won’t ever let you forget that.
To me, this is a fairly good-natured rivalry because it’s a game that absolutely has to be played each year. But the elements are present for this Final Four meeting to be a powder keg.
Rick Pitino is Louisville’s coach. He was Kentucky’s coach before stabbing Big Blue Nation in the back by leaving for the Boston Celtics, failing, then running back to the Bluegrass to coach our rival.
No bitterness there.
John Calipari, once described as a younger Pitino, leads UK now. His previous two Final Four appearances (at Massachusetts and Memphis) were wiped away by rules violations – but he’s been cleared of wrongdoing. Still, opponents (like UofL fans) won’t let us forget his checkered past.
And, of course, Cal and Slick Rick don’t like each other.
All of that sits atop 100 years of history between the schools, even if the teams didn’t actually play each other each season. They should have been playing. Imagine how much bigger this would be if this rivalry had over 100 games under its belt already.
The Commonwealth is, to a degree, split. UK fans claim the state belongs to the ‘Cats. Louisville fans have long been viewed as Little Brother.
One of these teams will be in a position to win a national title on Monday. Louisville has one the tournament twice, Kentucky seven times.
Ask yourself: Which game is bigger? Ask me and I’ll tell you, I want eight. But to get it, we’ve still got to get past the Cards.
Justin McGill is the general manager of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.