John Clay: Calipari, Pitino bring fear factor to Cats-Cards rivalry

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 26, 2014 

Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, left, and Kentucky Coach John Calipari, shown before the teams played in Lexington on Dec. 28, having differing viewpoints about athletes and social media.

PHOTO BY PABLO ALCALA | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • FRIDAY

    Kentucky vs. Louisville

    What: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal

    Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

    When: About 9:45 p.m.

    TV: CBS-27

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

    Records: Louisville 31-5, Kentucky 26-10

    Series: Kentucky leads 31-15

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 73-66 on Dec. 28, 2013, in Rupp Arena

Friday night is Fright Night.

In reality, Friday night is the night of the Midwest Regional semifinals in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. Tennessee and Michigan meet in the preliminary. Kentucky-Louisville is the main attraction. It's a do-or-die game. It's a rivalry game. It's a game each fan base approaches with fear.

Kentucky fans fear Rick Pitino's perfect 11-0 record in Sweet 16 games. All but one of those regional semifinal victories came by double digits. Five came when Pitino was coaching Kentucky.

Back in 1992, in a game few remember because of the UK-Duke game two days later, Kentucky beat a promising young coach and his UMass Minutemen 87-77.

Louisville fans fear that coach. At Kentucky, John Calipari is 5-1 against Pitino at Louisville. The one loss came last season at Louisville's KFC Yum Center when Pitino had his best U of L team, Calipari his worst UK team. Even then, Louisville had to squeeze out an 80-77 win.

One of Cal's five triumphs came two years ago in New Orleans at the Final Four when the Cats topped the Cards and then two nights later carried scissors up the stepladder on the Superdome floor.

Kentucky fans fear Pitino's reputation as the prince of preparation. The Cards will have had five days to get ready for Kentucky, five days for Pitino to study video, sweat the details, craft a scouting report and put a plan into action.

Louisville fans fear Calipari's motivational tactic of the moment, the way the Kentucky coach can preach and tweak — Cal says he's working on a third "tweak" — and have his team/congregation rise to the occasion.

Latest example: Last Sunday's instant classic win over top-seed and previously unbeaten Wichita State.

Kentucky fans fear Pitino's full-court press, one they know all too well. Louisville averages 10 steals a game. Its two NCAA opponents last weekend turned the basketball over 33 times. Kentucky's young guards played well in St. Louis, but they are still young guards.

Louisville fans fear the size Calipari has lured to Lexington. The Cards' weakness is the Cats' strength.

Since Gorgui Dieng's NBA departure and Chane Behanan's dismissal, Louisville lacks muscle and wingspan down low. In Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and (if needed) Marcus Lee, Calipari has big-boy options.

Kentucky fans fear Pitino will get Russ Smith back to being "Russdiculous" versus Big Blue. After a stellar track record against the Cats, Smith missed 13 of his 20 shots in Rupp last December during U of L's 73-66 loss.

Louisville fans fear Calipari with a healthy, rockin' Julius Randle, who after a 17-point first half played just four minutes of the second half because of cramps. Randle did not take a second-half shot or grab a second-half rebound. Kentucky won anyway.

Kentucky fans fear Pitino will find the rewind button and return the Cards to the level of play which has led to 14 wins in their last 15 games, most of them poundings — seven of those came by 20 points or more.

Louisville fans fear Calipari has really flipped some sort of switch, leaving that circle-the-sink play of late February and early March behind in favor of a bright, sunny, new post-season attitude. They fear that win over Wichita State wasn't a one-game wonder but part of a memorable post-season run.

Kentucky fans fear the fact Pitino owns the same setup he had last season when the Cards rolled into the Midwest Region semifinals at — you guessed it — Indianapolis — you guessed it — Lucas Oil Stadium — and earned a Final Four trip.

Louisville fans fear Calipari as underdog is the UK coach's dream spot, so he can execute his Us-Against-The-World strategy to a successful end.

Bottom line: Both fan bases fear the same thing — defeat and a long off-season of nothing but reminders.

That's the frightening part.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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