John Clay: Pitino a pauper in Calipari's kingdom

Once-mighty coach on other end of domination

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 2, 2012 

Since Rick Pitino didn't do a pre-game press conference, it should not have been a shock when the Louisville basketball coach didn't do a post-game presser either, not at the podium anyway, opting instead to do his Saturday post-mortem outside the losing locker room.

So when Kentucky was doing its post-game duties, Pitino walked right through the media room and exited Rupp Arena without anyone paying the coach much attention.

You had to wonder what the former Kentucky coach was thinking.

Here his Cardinals had held Kentucky to 29.8 shooting from the floor, relegated a foul-plagued Anthony Davis to the bench for 13 minutes in the first half, forced the Cats into 21 turnovers.

And Louisville still took its third straight loss in the series, this time 69-62.

"I've coached a lot of teams that have given great effort," said Pitino afterward, "but I have never coached a team that is willing to give the effort this team gives."

So when did it come to this?

When did we arrive at the point where Rick Pitino, the coach who championed the fast-break loving, three-point shooting approach to the game, resorted to a slow-it-down, muck-it-up blueprint in hopes of slaying a team of superior talent?

When did Rick Pitino start praising his team's "effort" after a game in which it trailed by 13 points with under a minute to go?

When was it conceivable that Rick Pitino could lose six of eight games to his most important rival?

Perhaps it was the time that John Calipari signed on as the Kentucky coach.

A coach wins one year and it could be a fluke. A two-year win streak constitutes a trend. But when a coach's team is out-shot both from the floor and the three-point line, commits seven more turnovers than the opposition, and wins anyway, for the third straight year, a description of domination springs to mind.

Consider that in the past two years, UK has lost John Wall, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, among others, and the Cats have still beaten Louisville three years straight.

It could all change next season, of course. Kentucky could lose its top six players to the NBA Draft while the guess here is that Louisville will have almost all of this year's core back on the floor for next year's game at the Yum Center.

But right here, right now, the former king has been reduced to pauper status as the current king is holding court, and winning there.

That has to gall the Louisville coach to no end.

Pitino despises losing in any form or fashion — remember 1997 when he canceled the post-game awards banquet and Ron Mercer's on-court farewell ceremony after UK lost the regular-season finale to South Carolina? To lose to a coach he dislikes, especially one holding his former job, has to be especially tough to take.

On the flip side, tripping up Pitino three years in a row has to be especially satisfying for Calipari, who so often can't seem to resist needling his former friend.

Why just last Friday, during Cal's pre-game press conference, the Kentucky coach admitted that over the years Pitino had been good to him, "and I've been good to him, too."

Not now, of course. Not when the fans place so much emphasis on this in-state rivalry and Kentucky keeps dominating.

"You shoot 29 percent from the floor and you win," said Calipari on Saturday. "Let me make that statement again. You shoot 29 percent from the floor and you win. That's a good day."

And another bad day for Rick Pitino.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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