A look back at The Louisville Game

[ED. NOTE: This is a rescued post from December of 2006, but seems relevant enough, given that (a) it took time to compile and (b) it's LOUISVILLE-CATS on Saturday! ... ]

[Originally published Friday, Dec. 15, 2006] ...

With another of the annual grudge match known as the Louisville game nearly upon us, A Sea of Blue takes a quick look back at some of the most memorable games in this storied rivalry.

A State Divided
The day it all began ... again. Having refused to meet since the late 50s, chance and the basketball gods worked it so that Kentucky and Louisville squared off in the NCAA regionals in the spring of 1983 in Knoxville, TN.

That Big Blue squad featured junior big man Mel Turpin and sterling backcourt of Dirk Minnifield and Jim Master. Louisville countered with Scooter and Rodney McCray and Milt Wagner, among others. It was a true heavyweight matchup, and one befitting the first meeting in over 20 years between the arch rivals.

The game was a tight one, and it wasn't over until overtime, after Master nailed a jumper at the buzzer to knot it up. Once the game went into extra time, however, the Cardinals took over, fast-breaking the slower Cats into submission.

It was, and is, still among the greatest games the two teams ever played.

A Rivalry Renewed
It took a threat of legislative action to force UK and UL to meet in the regular season for the first time in ages. The fans wanted it, but the administrations were reluctant to pit one power against another with state bragging rights on the line. But eventually, with the Kentucky legislature talking of stepping in, both sides relented, and this annual I-64 series was born anew.

With a bitter taste still in their mouths from their OT NCAA loss to the Cards the prior year, the Wildcats hosted the Cardinals in the first of the alternating home-and-home trips. Kentucky returned nearly everyone from the previous year, and added now-healthy All-American center Sam Bowie to the mix as well. Louisville had lost some of its star power, but still had the amazing Milt Wagner to lead the troops.

No. 2 Kentucky was too much for the Cardinals on this day, using sharp shooting from Jim Master and the inside strength of Mel Turpin and Bowie to a 65-44 victory in front of a rocking Rupp Arena crowd, which included the Governor, John Y. Brown, Jr., complete with split red-blue baseball cap. Ever the politician, eh?

King Rex and his Court
Don't let the rankings fool you, when UK and UK met on Dec. 27, 1986 at Freedom Hall, the Cats were heavy underdogs. After all, the Cards were the defending national champion, and returned a nucleus of stars led by then-sophomore Pervis Ellison, the MOP of the '86 Final Four. Then again, we all forgot about King Rex.

A State Divided
The day it all began ... again. Having refused to meet since the late 50s, chance and the basketball gods worked it so that Kentucky and Louisville squared off in the NCAA regionals in the spring of 1983 in Knoxville, TN.

That Big Blue squad featured junior big man Mel Turpin and sterling backcourt of Dirk Minnifield and Jim Master. Louisville countered with Scooter and Rodney McCray and Milt Wagner, among others. It was a true heavyweight matchup, and one befitting the first meeting in over 20 years between the arch rivals.

The game was a tight one, and it wasn't over until overtime, after Master nailed a jumper at the buzzer to knot it up. Once the game went into extra time, however, the Cardinals took over, fast-breaking the slower Cats into submission.

It was, and is, still among the greatest games the two teams ever played.

A Rivalry Renewed
It took a threat of legislative action to force UK and UL to meet in the regular season for the first time in ages. The fans wanted it, but the administrations were reluctant to pit one power against another with state bragging rights on the line. But eventually, with the Kentucky legislature talking of stepping in, both sides relented, and this annual I-64 series was born anew.

With a bitter taste still in their mouths from their OT NCAA loss to the Cards the prior year, the Wildcats hosted the Cardinals in the first of the alternating home-and-home trips. Kentucky returned nearly everyone from the previous year, and added now-healthy All-American center Sam Bowie to the mix as well. Louisville had lost some of its star power, but still had the amazing Milt Wagner to lead the troops.

No. 2 Kentucky was too much for the Cardinals on this day, using sharp shooting from Jim Master and the inside strength of Mel Turpin and Bowie to a 65-44 victory in front of a rocking Rupp Arena crowd, which included the Governor, John Y. Brown, Jr., complete with split red-blue baseball cap. Ever the politician, eh?

King Rex and his Court
Don't let the rankings fool you, when UK and UK met on Dec. 27, 1986 at Freedom Hall, the Cats were heavy underdogs. After all, the Cards were the defending national champion, and returned a nucleus of stars led by then-sophomore Pervis Ellison, the MOP of the '86 Final Four. Then again, we all forgot about King Rex.

Rex Chapman, one of the most highly sought after recruits in Kentucky state history, and the focus of a pitched recruiting battle between UK and Louisville, was playing in just his 7th game in Blue. But once the game got started, he looked as comfortable as if he'd been playing college hoops his whole life.

Chapman poured in 26 points and 5 threes in one of the most electrifying performances ever by a UK player. His threes were deep and off the dribble, and his high-flying dunks brought the fans dressed in Blue to a roar. Even UK big man Rob Lock got into the act, closing out the Cards with a windmill dunk to add insult to injury.

The supposedly mighty Cardinals limped along for the reste of the year, while the Cats struggled through youth but always had that one night in Louisville, where Kentucky was King.

The Return of the King
A national television audience and a packed Rupp Arena were on hand when former beloved head coach Rick Pitino made his first return trip to his old stomping grounds as the new Louisville coach on Dec. 29, 2001. The ever-conscious Pitino even entered the bench area via a back way to avoid the possibility of incident.

But while Pitino may have come into the game feeling good about a return to the college ranks, the game itself would have little for him to smile about. A fired up Wildcats, no doubt protective of their own coach, pummelled an overmatched Louisville from the get-go, culminating in Cliff Hawkins' wicked crossover on Joseph N'Sima and chants of "Tub-by! Tub-by" echoing from the hallowed rafters of Rupp Arena.

The Triple Double

On New Year's Day, 1995, an absolutely loaded Kentucky team came into the game riding high. Ranked fifth in the country, Pitino's Cats were expected to make short work of the unranked and struggling Cardinals, led by Denny Crum. But as is often the case in this matchup, things didn't go as planned.

Star guard DeJuan Wheat scored 23 points, but it was freshman big man Samaki Walker's 11 blocks and triple double that proved too much for Kentucky to overcome in an 88-86 thriller.

"The Shuffle Shot"
For one half, of the game in Freedom Hall on Dec. 18, 2004, between the Cardinals and Wildcats looked like a complete mismatch. Ice cold from the field and intimidated, Kentucky scored just 16 points and trailed by 16 as well. Tubby Smith, starting a freshman point guard in Rajon Rondo and a freshman center in Randolph Morris, had no answers for forward Juan Palacios and guard Larry O'Bannon, who repeatedly picked apart the struggling Cats.

But they play two halves in basketball for a reason. And on this day, the only Kentucky kid starting in blue, Patrick Sparks, simply would not let the hated Cardinals win. Sparks hit a circus shot, a three, another three and soon, with some defensive pressure and a loud crowd stunned, the Wildcats had cut the Louisville lead to single digits, then to just three with a few seconds to play.

On a final play that will live in UK lore, trailing by two points, Sparks took a rushed pass from junior Kelenna Azubuike, pump-faked his defender and drew a three-shot trip to the foul line with time expiring. A cool and efficient Sparks calmly sank all three shots to give his Cats a miraculous comeback and drive a dagger into the hearts of rabid Louisville fans everywhere.

Sparks finished with 25 points, plus one living legend.

A Rajon Inferno
No. 23 Kentucky limped into the annual Louisville game on Dec. 17, 2005 hoping to shed te weight of a historic loss to another rival, Indiana. Louisville entered the game riding a wave of cupcake wins to a #4 national ranking. Another loss to a rival, this one at home, would have put an already tenuous situation on the breaking point for Tubby Smith and the Cats. But a Louisville native played the game of his life ... for Kentucky.

Sophomore All-Conference guard Rajon Rondo, who had originally hoped to sign with his hometown Cardinals, only to be asked to wait as Rick Pitino courted eventual NBA draftee Sebastian Telfair, took his revenge on this afternoon, scoring 25 points and dishing 7 assists in an electric performance as the Cats knocked the visitors down a few pegs, exposing them as paper Cardinals.

In an otherwise forgettable year, the Cats would at least be able to say they beat their bitter rivals. The beating foreshadowed an even more forgettable year for Louisville, who would miss the NCAA tournament entirely, going on to an NIT berth.

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