Everybody has a theory on how the Kentucky Wildcats need to get motivated for the game against the Louisville Cardinals. They could use the words of the U of L players, or Rick Pitino, or some of the Kentucky detractors who claim Calipari can't coach, or cheats, or ... you pick it.
But the real motivation, at least for Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, was last year's loss to the Connecticut Huskies in the national semifinals:
"It was extremely hard," Miller said. "We felt like we gave it our all the whole year. We worked really hard that year and just not being able to win the championship, it kind of messed with us a little bit. It's been lingering in the back our mind all year. We wanted to get back here, and we have. Now we just want to finish it out."
That's the kind of motivation that's good. Forget the rivalry, that's great for motivating fans and generating media articles, but when it comes to the players, the best kind of motivation is not revenge, or fear of a loss to an underdog rival, but a shared goal that not only the players who have been there for a while, but the new guys also, can embrace.
While it's true that the younger guys don't feel the sting of that UConn loss, they don't want to feel it, either.
"We're not satisfied yet," freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said.
That's exactly what we want to hear from the young guys, and it's a reasonable bet that Anthony Davis, Marqis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer aren't satisfied, either.
As far as Calipari is concerned, he isn't interested in motivating the Cardinals any more than the possibility of revenge and sending their favored rival home with a black eye is already motivating them:
If the comments of Calipari and his players on Tuesday are any indication, none of those articles figure to include any incendiary quotes from the Cats, but the conversations in schools, workplaces and houses divided figure to go differently.
"I'm not (going to feed into the rivalry), our fans maybe. Our fans feed everything," Calipari said affectionately.
Yes, coach, I prefer that you leave that to us. The Cardinals will surely try to manufacture some bulletin-board material out of what Kentucky fans say, but it won't mean much if the team and coach keep their eyes on the prize and leave the kidding around and smack-talk to us bloggers and the media types who are always trying to pry something juicy out of the interviews.
Nothing can keep this from being an exciting game for the fans, and it truly pleases me that the team and coach are approaching this game in a way that maximizes their motivation and minimizes that of the other team. They are just refusing to engage, and I think that's exactly the right thing to do. Not that Louisville is doing all that much trash talking, they really aren't. After that initial outburst, they have said and done all the right things.