Tournament implications 'bigger' than Cats-Cards rivalry

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2014 

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

PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader

INDIANAPOLIS — To hear players from both teams, the chance to keep alive national championship hopes dwarfs any importance attached to the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry.

"I don't want to disrespect the rivalry, but we're playing for something bigger than the rivalry," UK 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein said Thursday. "We're playing to move on. We're not thinking about it as a must-win game because it's Louisville. It's a must-win game because we're trying to win the national championship.

"That just happens to be the next bump in the road."

UK and U of L play here Friday night in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round.

Louisville players echoed Cauley-Stein's sentiment.

"It's not a rivalry to us right now," guard Chris Jones said. "We're trying to win a national championship. There's only one team in the way, that's Kentucky."

Even if it were the regular season, a Kentucky-Louisville game might bring a what's-the-big-deal shrug.

"It doesn't really mean much to you if you're not from Kentucky," Cauley-Stein said. "If you're not from Kentucky, you don't understand it. It's that simple."

Cauley-Stein likened UK-U of L to Kansas-Kansas State.

Andrew Harrison also sounded puzzled.

"It's not a big deal to people not from Kentucky," he said. "People from Kentucky, they take it very seriously. It's kind of life and death."

For UK players who did not grow up in Kentucky, Louisville is "just another great team we have to play," Harrison said.

'Born to hate'

Of course, Kentucky native Jarrod Polson knows all about the UK-U of L rivalry.

"I was born to hate Louisville," he said with a big smile.

Fans are fans

Cauley-Stein suggested that UK and U of L fans might be more similar than they might think.

"If you ask Kentucky fan about the rivalry and then ask a Louisville fan about the rivalry, they say the same kind of trash talk about each other," he said. "... It's the same thing, just on the different side of it. It's funny because it's so similar.

"That's why it's funny. You all are really the same. You're saying the same thing."

Andrew's elbow

Andrew Harrison gave an update on his injured right elbow.

"It's getting better," he said. "Still a little sore. Still ice it and stuff. But it's definitely getting better."

Harrison acknowledged that the elbow was not 100 percent against Wichita State last weekend. Wearing a padded sleeve on the elbow, he scored 20 points in UK's victory.

"I had some pain during the game," he said. "A game like that, it's so exciting. The adrenalin is flowing."

Cal and Rick

Coaches John Calipari of UK and Rick Pitino of U of L made nice.

"I would say we're friends," Calipari said. "... We were in touch throughout the year back and forth. He'd throw something at me. I'd throw something at him. Different things about our teams."

Calipari suggested that age mellowed both coaches.

"We all got tough jobs, what we're doing," he said. "I know that he's a great coach. He's done it at different programs."

Pitino returned the compliment.

"He's one of the premier coaches in our game," he said of Calipari. "Has always been."

Redrum

Perhaps picking up on his coach's oft-stated suspicions about reporters, Cauley-Stein suggested the media's ill intent.

"If you lose, you're going to get murdered in the media," he said. "And if you win, you're going to get murdered in the media. You have to stay in the moment.

"It's a lose-lose for you."

New York state of mind

U of L's leading scorer, Russ Smith, shrugged when asked about giving up five inches to UK's guards. He sounded a lot like former UK guard and fellow Brooklynite Ramel Bradley.

"I was raised in New York," he said before noting that the Big Apple produces players in all sizes, shapes and skills. "If you're a basketball player, you can't complain about another basketball player."

Enthusiasm vs. experience

Smith suggested that UK can dilute any advantage U of L might enjoy in experience.

"Freshmen really play hard," he said. "That kind of goes under-valued. It's tough to match their energy. They want to get to the next level. ... You can just tell every play really matters to them."

Not a freshman

Louisville center Stephan Van Treese acknowledged how well Julius Randle played in the regular-season game. U of L can try to make adjustments in his defense of Randle, he said.

But when asked how exactly U of L will alter its approach against Randle, Van Treese demurred.

"It's not my first rodeo," he said. "I'm not a freshman."

Etc.

On this date 22 years ago, Christian Laettner made the famous shot that enabled Duke to beat Kentucky in the East Region final. Louisville had played one game on this date: a loss to South Carolina in the 2006 NIT semifinals. ... Only twice since 1965 has a NCAA Tournament not included either Kentucky or Louisville or both: 1991 and 1976. ... Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Tracy Wolfson will call the game for CBS.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service