Mark Story: Cats/Cards rivalry has gone a little stale

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 31, 2010 

Memo

To: Ricky P. and Cal, Brandon and Terrence, Preston and Peyton et al.

From: A yearning state

Re: A New Year's Eve wish from the commonwealth

Yo, guys. When Kentucky and Louisville renew our state's marquee basketball rivalry Friday, can we finally have an honest-to-goodness, well-played game?

Please.

For all the sound and fury that Cats vs. Cards produces in our hoops-mad state, our dirty little secret is that Kentucky vs. Louisville in recent years has not yielded very good basketball.

Quick quiz: When was the last really good game — both teams playing well throughout leading to a memorable ending — between UK and U of L?

2009-10: Forget it. Last year's basketbrawl — filled with technical fouls, forearm shivers and way too much smack talk — was real close to an embarrassment to our state.

2008-09: Nope. You had a close game and Edgar Sosa's game-winning bomb was dramatic, but Kentucky was sloppy throughout with 21 turnovers. U of L had a stunning last-minute meltdown filled with two bad turnovers and a fouled three-point shooter that allowed UK to erase a seven-point deficit inside the game's final 50 seconds. Even Sosa's 26-foot winning dagger was a made bad shot.

2007-08: The only thing I remember about Louisville's 89-75 win in Rupp Arena in Billy Gillispie's first year was that the entire second half never really felt in doubt.

2006-07: Yikes. Scud missiles flew all around Freedom Hall in this clunker. Kentucky freshman Jodie Meeks hit four of seven three-pointers. All other players combined to go 5-for-35 from behind the arc in UK's ugly 61-49 win.

2005-06: Kentucky's Rajon Rondo was brilliant, but Louisville was brutal, making only one of its first 14 shots in a game (73-61 Cats) that was never close.

2004-05: OK, I would probably give you this one as a good game. Louisville led by 16 at half, Kentucky fought back behind the second-half heroics of Patrick Sparks and won 60-58 after Sparks hit three free throws with 0:00.6 left.

Then again, UK had only 16 points in the entire first half, shot only 35 percent for the game and U of L did blow a 16-point, second-half lead.

2003-04: This was a good game. Unsung heroes Larry O'Bannon and Otis George (really) led a second-half Louisville rally that saw the Cards invade Rupp Arena and stun an unbeaten UK that was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the Coaches' Poll.

Bottom line: Six or seven years without an actual good game in what is supposed to be one of the nation's marquee basketball rivalries is darned near a crisis.

The good news is that — with one big if — this year's matchup looks to have the ingredients to cook up something memorable.

You have two teams that have both been adept at hitting jump shots.

Louisville comes into the game having made an astounding 33 of 53 three-pointers in its two most recent games. Kentucky freshman guards Doron Lamb (27-for-50 on treys) and Brandon Knight (27-for-75) can stroke the jumper.

Unless one of the coaches throws a strategic change-up, you have two teams that are both trying to play up-tempo. Louisville is averaging almost 84 points a game, UK 80.5

You have a grand setting, the sparkling new KFC Yum Center.

You also have an intriguing contrast in Kentucky with its talented six-man rotation against a Louisville that, other than emerging point guard standout Peyton Siva, has 10-11 largely interchangeable parts.

Clearly, it is in U of L's interest to make the game a war of attrition, to try to get key Cats in foul trouble and wear Kentucky down.

The big if is whether Rick Pitino and John Calipari can suppress their mutual enmity and get their teams to play hard and well without the mean-spirited chippiness of last season's game.

Says Pitino: "I think this will be more of a scorer's game than what you saw last year. I don't think it's going to be like (last year's game). I think both teams will play real hard but both teams will have an offensive mentality to get out on the break and hopefully it will be a great game for the fans."

Says Calipari: "(The game) doesn't need to get dirty. Doesn't need to get amped up any more than it is, which is two good teams playing."

For the first time in a long time when it's Kentucky vs. Louisville, here's hoping that "two good teams playing" yields a truly good game.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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