NEW ORLEANS — The key figures in the Kentucky-Louisville game Saturday might not wear blue nor red. They may be in striped shirts.
Of the referees, former UK player Anthony Epps said, "If they call it tight, Louisville could be in for a tough night." If the referees allow a physical style of play, Kentucky might have a more difficult game.
Epps, the point guard on Kentucky's 1996 national championship team, and two other former UK players acknowledged how Rick Pitino's style could test the referees. The idea would be to make it difficult for the officials to whistle every possible foul. The result could be contact interpreted as playing style rather than fouls.
"Exactly," said Deron Feldhaus, one of the Unforgettables in 1992. "They get caught up in that style. It's hard for them to catch everything. They're going to miss quite a few (fouls)."
Tony Delk, a top scorer on the 1996 team, noted how UK's women's team used aggressive, pressuring defense this season in winning the Southeastern Conference championship.
"After a while, the referees get tired of calling fouls," he said. "Coach Pitino doesn't do it (this season) as much as he did back then. With that style, you've got to have about 10 guys. You're never out of a game when you play that way."
The blur of players entering and exiting the game, plus the high-volume action, can affect the officiating, Delk said.
"Referees like a team that's aggressive," he said. "You can't be passive."
Feldhaus said he expected Louisville to try to create a repeat of the regular-season game, which featured disjointed action that lacked a consistent rhythm. In that game, the teams combined for 16 assists and 35 turnovers.
"Making it ugly," said Feldhaus, who added, "I hate to say that."
Several familiar names are among referees assigned to the Final Four. They include Doug Shows, Tom Eades, Mike Stuart, Jamie Luckie, Pat Adams and Les Jones. Other referees here include Roger Ayers, Joe DeRosa, Verne Harris and Mark Whitehead.
UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dismissed the possibility of a dome stadium site adversely affecting shooting.
"Just a regular court to me," he said. "That's it."
When asked about the remote possibility of falling off the court, which is raised about four feet off the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Kidd-Gilchrist said, "Whatever happens happens."
Teammate Marquis Teague noted a difference.
"The gym is huge," he said. "It makes the court seem small."
UK's most prolific perimeter shooter, Doron Lamb (team-high 73 three-pointers, 47.1-percent accuracy from beyond the arc), said of the setting, "It's like our third time playing in a football arena. It doesn't really bother me."
Though UK shot a season-low 33.9 percent in losing to UConn in Houston's Reliant Stadium in last year's Final Four, Lamb made three of five three-point shots in that game.
Lamb has denied that he favors the left corner as a spot to shoot three-pointers. Not so U of L's Kyle Kuric, whose accuracy from that spot inspired the name "Kuric's corner."
Necessity made him comfortable from the left corner, he said. When he shot on the family driveway as a child, the right corner went downhill away from the basket. So he shot from the left.
Davis still fine
Like the old Saturday Night Live punch line about Generalissimo Francisco Franco still being dead, Anthony Davis' knee is still fine.
For at least the third time since Davis banged his left knee against Baylor on Sunday, a reporter asked about the star freshman's knee.
"He's fine," UK Coach John Calipari said.
Earlier in the day, Davis received The Associated Press National Player of the Year award. Upon receiving the Oscar Robertson Trophy, Davis thanked God, his family, coaches and teammates.
"I want to thank Marquis for all the lobs," he said. "I want to thank the guards for getting beat off the dribble," which gave Davis more opportunities to rotate on defense for blocks.
Darius Miller was asked if there are Louisville fans in his hometown of Maysville.
"There are a few," he said. "They are lonely, they really are."
Needing a hug
Pitino told a story this week about Russ Smith taking him by surprise by hugging him in the huddle in a game. The hug interrupted the U of L coach's verbal blistering of players.
"He was just ranting about something. He was very loud, very upset," Smith said. "I went and hugged him and said 'It's all right.' Then I ran back on the court. He just stood there for a minute, looked shocked, then he walked back to the bench. It was pretty funny."
U of L guard Russ Smith's father operates a barbershop in New York City.
"Had it about 20 years," he said of Big Russ Barber Shop. "He gets a lot of visitors. I know Stephon Marbury used to go there often. Rashad McCants came by. He brought the singing group B5. ... Bill Clinton came. Everybody comes to his barbershop. It's one of the top five, I think, urban barbershops in the state."
Break the tie
A reporter asked Calipari how Pitino's acumen as a strategist might close the talent gap between the teams.
"You're basically saying I have none of that, is that right?" Calipari said with a smile.
Calipari and Pitino have each won eight times in the 16 games they've matched coaching wits. In UK-U of L games, Calipari leads 3-0. In UK-UMass games, Pitino won four of five. Each coach won four times in Memphis-U of L games.