Notes

Fans' pressure on players is palpable

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 31, 2010 

Former Louisville player Derwin Webb now works as an attorney in the Derby City. Even with grown-up responsibilities, he can't escape the pull of the Kentucky-Louisville game. Earlier this week, he said he had made a bet that will require him to wear blue in court should UK win Friday's game.

Webb declined to say with whom he'd bet. When asked if it was a judge, he laughed and said, "I cannot confirm nor deny."

Webb, who played for U of L in the early 1990s, said players on both sides feel pressure from fans — not from coaches nor teammates — to win the game.

"When you walk through the malls, the first thing they want to talk about is beating Kentucky," he said of U of L fans. "Not winning the conference championship. Not even winning the national championship."

UK center Josh Harrellson echoed the sentiment, saying UK fans had posted a countdown to Friday's game on his Facebook page.

"It's hard to keep it as a normal game when everybody is focused on one game the whole year," he said.

The added emphasis extended to UK Coach John Calipari, Harrellson said.

"He tries to act like it's just a normal game," the senior from St. Charles, Mo., said. "But you can tell he's more pumped up for this game than most. That's the same for all the players."

Calipari conceded that being an "in-state" game, UK-U of L was "not like it's not an important game." But he denied that he was "amped up" for the game.

U of L Coach Rick Pitino acknowledged the added enjoyment that comes with the greater challenge of such a game.

"I enjoy it more than playing Drexel," he said. "I enjoy any big game, certainly, and I think any time you play against great offensive basketball team you've got to organize your defense to stop it. I think it's a great challenge."

Like Harrellson, U of L guard Chris Smith recoiled from the word "hate" in describing the emotions surrounding the game.

"I wouldn't say I hate them personally," he said before adding, "but I would say I hate the name on their jerseys. I would say that. ... It is our rival and we all bleed Louisville."

Going in blind

With a freshman-oriented team, Kentucky relies on its experienced players to lead the way in such games. But Calipari noted that his veterans have precious little experience in a UK-U of L game.

"We're going in blind," he said.

Juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins each played eight scoreless minutes in last year's game.

Two seasons ago, Miller played 13 scoreless minutes and Liggins scored two points in eight minutes.

Harrellson, who did not play in last season's game, played five scoreless minutes against U of L in 2008-09.

What chippiness?

Pitino playfully denied that tempers boiled over in last year's UK-U of L game.

"We weren't chippy at all," he said with a laugh. "I don't think (Jared) Swopshire was going to bully (DeMarcus) Cousins too much."

The U of L coach suggested the first exposure to a UK-U of L game caused Calipari to overreact.

"I think there's a new coach there," Pitino said. "Once they get used to the rivalry, it will settle down. I think it was a first-year situation and I think it will settle down."

Without mentioning Cousins by name, Smith said he expected a better atmosphere. "It will probably be a little more calm because, I don't want to call anybody any names, but it's just different players," the U of L guard said. "Different guys."

New award

The Bluegrass Sports Commission announced the creation of an award for the Most Valuable Player of the annual UK-U of L game. The award is patterned after the MVP award for the UK-U of L football game sponsored by the Louisville Sports Authority.

Men at work

According to notes prepared for the media by the University of Louisville, Mike Stuart is one of the referees assigned to the Kentucky-Louisville game on Friday.

Stuart was the referee who slapped two technical fouls on Calipari during UK's game against Mississippi Valley State.

Other referees assigned to the UK-U of L game are Jim Burr and Michael Stephens.

Stuart and Stephens worked Kentucky's game at Mississippi State last season. That was the game that saw 10 fouls called against Mississippi State and none against UK in the final eight minutes (the last three minutes of the second half and five minutes of overtime). UK rallied to a victory.

Etc.

Pitino downplayed the loss of Rakeem Buckles, who leads U of L in rebounding (7.5 rpg). He suffered a spiral fracture in a finger. The Cards are used to dealing with injuries, Pitino said. ... Former 10th region rivals Darius Miller (Mason County) and Preston Knowles (Clark County) renew their rivalry. "We're pretty cool," Miller said. ... Gus Johnson and Clark Kellogg will call the game for CBS.

Staff writer Chip Cosby contributed to this article.

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