The preliminaries are over. The skirmishes are finished. It's time for the two big boys in the state of Kentucky to get into the Octagon, and do battle for the glory of the Commonwealth.
This is the game all of Kentucky, and much of the college basketball universe, looks forward to every year. Yes, there is the Duke-UNC rivalry, and that is surely a classic. Yes, there is Indiana-Purdue. Washington and Washington State. There are lots of great college rivalries, but in this writer's humble opinion, none of them reaches the level of intensity of the Kentucky Wildcats versus the Louisville Cardinals and their annual basketball contest.
As we move closer to the game, A Sea of Blue will be examining the matchup in-depth, not just from a statistical perspective (although we will certainly be doing that), but from a historical and personal perspective. This first article will deal more with the latter.
The first place to begin in any discussion of the rivalry history between Kentucky and Louisville is Jon Scott's website, BigBlueHistory.net. There, you will find the rivalry laid bare in great detail. It is required reading for all Kentucky fans who care about the Louisville rivalry, and every year about this time I find myself going back there to re-remember old classics and how things got to where they are.
A few of the highlights you can find at Jon's site:
- The determination of Adolph Rupp not to play in-state schools that cost this rivalry many years of games.
- How Ralph Beard almost transferred to Louisville in 1945.
- The recruiting war over Wes Unseld. This was perhaps the modern genesis of much of the bad blood between schools, as this recruitment highlighted how the "race card" was played against Kentucky in the 1950's and 1960's.
- How Denny Crum started the modern rivalry with disrespectful words toward Kentucky's outstanding 1971 recruiting class of Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Connor et. al. To be fair to Crum, back in those days, coaches could do that sort of thing without any real negative consequences, unencumbered by the political correctness that informs today's pronouncements.
- The NCAA's efforts to set up meetings between Kentucky and Louisville in the NCAA tournament which eventually resulted in the "Dream Game" in 1983.
- How the first regular season game turned out to be the second-worst defeat Louisville coach Denny Crum had ever suffered at Louisville.
- How Eddie Sutton inflamed the Cardinal faithful in 1987, and how Rex Chapman backed him up on the floor, handing Crum his worst defeat as Cardinal coach.
Jon's piece does not include the Pitino years, which he hasn't gotten around to adding. What continues to amaze me is the intensity of the rivalry that has only really been going on for 26 years. That speaks volumes about the pent-up frustration, pretty much by fans of both teams, that developed during the Rupp and early years of Joe B. Hall. Even though many Kentucky fans of the day subscribed to the idea that playing Louisville was unnecessary and undesirable, many wanted a chance at the Cardinals, particularly when Denny Crum started running his mouth.
Again, to Crum's credit, his constant jibes were a big part of the reason the annual game actually happened, and very few fans of either school (even though Louisville has been on the losing end significantly more often than Kentucky) have reason to regret the ultimate outcome.
Next, we'll be looking at position matchups for Friday's game.