The Louisville Cardinals.
That is a team that will make every true-blue Kentucky fan's ears perk up. Whenever somebody mentions "the Cardinals," every fan of the Blue and White knows you aren't talking about the St. Louis Cardinals, or the Ball State Cardinals. There is only one team, one foe called to mind when the red bird is mentioned to one of the Faithful, and that is the team that resides in Kentucky's biggest metropolitan area, the River City, the Falls City -- Louisville.
Whey I was young, Louisville and Kentucky did not play each other in sports. At the time, I never thought to inquire why, I just accepted it as one of those things. I grew up in Shelbyville, Kentucky -- right under the shadow of the River City, and made frequent trips there for all sorts of reasons including shopping and events. I was fine with Louisville at the time -- in fact, I cheered for them nearly as hard as I cheered for the Wildcats. They were a Kentucky team, right? That's all that mattered.
Until 1983, that is.
1983 is the year the Louisville and Kentucky met in the Mideast Regional Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee. The NCAA had been trying to achieve this meeting for years, and it finally happened. I was in the Navy at the time, and a bunch of us got together at one of the guys' house and watched the game. We all know the outcome of that affair -- Louisville won 80-68 in overtime. My loathing of all things Cardinal had officially begun.
More after the jump.
Since then, there have been many Kentucky vs. Louisville games, some memorable and some not. Here are some of my most memorable:
1983-84 -- The first official "Dream Game" of the series. This was forced on Cliff Hagen and the UK athletic department by public pressure, despite pressure to maintain the policy that Kentucky would schedule no in-state schools from UK coach Joe B. Hall. The public won, as it so often does, and the series began.
This first game was played in Rupp Arena, and Kentucky avenged the NCAA tournament loss by blowing the Cardinals out of the gym, 65-44. I recall that many UK fans who opposed the renewal of the rivalry pointed to the lopsided score as reason to return to not playing Louisville.
Later that same year, Kentucky had to play Louisville again and once again defeated them on the way to the Final Four. This was a much closer game, though, 72-67. This year was not only significant for being the renewal of the regular season rivalry, it was also the only time since the renewal of the rivalry that the teams have played twice during the same season.
1986-87 -- Rex Chapman destroys the Cardinals 85-51 in Freedom Hall. I will never forget King Rex's explosion that year, and the utter domination that Kentucky put on the Cardinals. The Cards were coming off a national championship, had Pervis Ellison, Kenny Payne and Tony Kimbro returning.
The 34-point margin represented Denny Crum's worst ever defeat as Cardinal coach. Nobody expected such a lopsided margin, but Chapman had 26 points and 5-8 3-pointers to lead the charge. Ed Davender added 16 points and the rout was complete.
- 1987-88 -- The Cedric Jenkins tip-in. This was a close game with Louisville unranked at the time and UK ranked #1. Louisville nearly handed UK their first loss of the season, but a Cedric Jenkins tip-in at the buzzer preserved the UK victory for their third straight win over the Cardinals, 76-75.
- 1990-91 -- After two straight losses to the Cardinals as Eddie Sutton's staff lead the Wildcats into the ditch of NCAA probation, Sean Woods, Reggie Hanson and Ritchie Farmer led the rapidly improving Wildcats past the Cardinals in Freedom Hall, 93-85, the first of four straight UK wins.
- 1991-92 -- Jamal Mashburn and the Unforgettables thumped the Cardinals 103-89 in this lopsided affair, notable mostly for the fact that both teams were ranked at the time for the first time since 1985.
- 1994-95 -- DeJuan Wheat and Louisville upend 5th ranked UK, 88-86. My memories of this game revolve mostly around the fact that the Wildcats could do nothing to stop Wheat, as he ran amok for 23 points and sent the Wildcats home from freedom hall with a frown.
- 1997-98 -- Tubby Smith's national championship year, and the Wildcats lose to Louisville by 3 at Rupp Arena 79-76. I mostly remember this one for the fact that Louisville rained 3-pointers on Kentucky from everywhere, 12 in all.
- 2001-02 -- Tubby Smith hands his old boss, Rick Pitino, his first loss to Kentucky as the Cardinal coach, 82-62 in Rupp Arena. Of course, this game was memorable for watching two coaches who wore national championship rings as head coach of the Wildcats face off. I remember shouts of "Tub-by, Tub-by" by the Rupp Arena faithful.
- 2004-05 -- "The Shot." Patrick Sparks got fouled on a 3-pointer from the left corner as time expired in this game, and Sparks calmly sank all three free throws to defeat the 13th ranked Cardinals in Freedom Hall. Sparks scored 25 points, and the 'Cats came back from a 32-16 deficit after the first half. That's right, friends and neighbors, UK had only 16 points at halftime in that game. Hard to believe, isn't it? I'll bet any amount of money we have more than that on Saturday.
- 2008-09 -- The Jodie Meeks show. Jodie Meeks went nuts in the second half and scored 28 points for the game. After trailing by as many as 57-45 with 13 minutes left, the Wildcats managed to tie the game at 71 with 2.3 seconds left. But Edgar Sosa broke Kentucky fans' hearts by burying a three from 24+ feet to win the game in an eerily similar reprise of Patrick Sparks' heroics five years earlier.
Those are the U of L/UK games that really stand out to me. I'm sure many of you have memories to add, so I hope you will.
This year is particularly significant, as just as was the case in 1997, the coaches are more of a story than the teams. Kentucky welcomes the Cardinals into freedom hall with an unblemished record for the first time since 2003, and the Cards upset the 'Cats in that one.