by Holly Freeland
How big is the UK/Louisville game? It depends on who you ask. Anyone outside of the state of Kentucky will probably tell you it will be a good game of basketball, regardless of each team’s ranking or record. Ask anyone in Kentucky, and it may very well be the difference between a great basketball season and a bad one. In fact, the last national championship won by UK in 1998 included a loss earlier in the season to Louisville. And, in UL’s last national championship year, 1986, they lost to the Wildcats just a few months before.
With 9 national titles between the two teams, the Kentucky vs. Louisville game always provides a great taunting opportunity for fans for both sides, bragging rights for an entire year, and usually a hefty ticket price. As the game returns this year to Freedom Hall, which side are you on?
Louisville comes into this game having the better pedigree and national ranking. They have a proven coach, an experienced team, and the advantage of playing in front of their home fans. The UL women’s basketball team has already handed the Lady Wildcats a loss, and the men would like to do the same. Since UK won the Governor’s Cup in football, the trend of splitting victories in the two major sports, sits well in UL’s favor.
On the other hand, the University of Kentucky seems to be hitting their stride at the right time. Their coach seems to finally embrace the hot seat he has as a job, and the players seem to better understand what their coach demands. After an embarrassing home loss to VMI, the Wildcats have taken care of business and beaten teams they should beat, often by large and exciting margins.
However, they haven’t won any games they weren’t supposed to either. As talking heads say- when you are talking about a rivalry, you can throw conventional wisdom out the door. The rankings, home court advantage, record may not even matter at all. UK has Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks and a slew of players waiting to make a statement. UL returns T-Will, Earl Clark and an entire Junior Class hoping to make the most of this game. On paper, Louisville wins this game rather easily. But, UK looks to be the better team at this point in the season… against minimal competition.
Maybe this game just means another victory for either team at the hands of the NCAA committee when tournament time comes around. This will count as a “quality win” for UK as it will need those type of victories come March. UL doesn’t want to lose anymore games to unranked opponents.
Fans will tell you it’s an enormous game. The players will try to say it’s any other game… but they are probably fibbing.
I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Every team and every coach want to win every game. Fans want to win rivalry games a little more. So, the “importance” of this game may very simply depend on WHEN you ask. Right now, it’s the biggest game of the year. Next week, the losing team will more than likely say it didn’t matter in the least. And, I would guess if you ask the 1998 Wildcat team or 1986 Cardinal team to exchange their national championship rings in for a “W” against their in-state rival, the answer would be “no thanks.”
I’ll have on blue. What will you be wearing?