NEW ORLEANS – Kentucky coach John Calipari likes to say there are no rivalry games at this point in the season.
Try telling that to the Bluegrass State, where basketball’s version of the civil war – Kentucky vs. Louis- ville, winner plays for the NCAA title – has so divided the small state that senior citizens have actually come to fisticuffs.
“The fans take it as, whoever loses, it’s their funeral, really,” Louisville senior guard Chris Smith said. “It’s really cut-throat, I would say.”
The game today is the fifth time top-seeded Kentucky (36-2) and fourth-seeded Louisville (30-9) have met in the NCAA tournament. They split the previous four meetings.
Basketball purists may argue Duke-North Carolina or Kansas-Missouri are the game’s biggest, most intense rivalries. But those are like quaint tea parties compared with the animosity between Kentucky and Louisville, which required government intervention to get them to schedule each other.
“We get along with most of them,” Kentucky fan Pat Stahl said of Louisville fans, “as long as they don’t talk to you.”
It’s a given that Louisville and Kentucky would be rivals, their campuses a mere 70 miles apart in a state where basketball is king. To hear fans of both schools tell it, however, the programs might as well be on different planets.
Kentucky is a college basketball blue blood, its seven national titles second only to UCLA, while Louisville has a nice little tradition going with two national titles.
Kentucky holds bragging rights in the annual in-state rumble, winning 18 of the 29 games, including a 69-62 victory at Rupp Arena on Dec. 31.