UK Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Buzz surrounds next Cats vs. Cards game in Rupp

Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith (2) drew a foul on Kentucky Wildcats guard Julius Mays (34) as he was trapped by Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein, left, as Louisville defeated Kentucky 80-77 on Saturday December 29, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark  Cornelison | Staff
Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith (2) drew a foul on Kentucky Wildcats guard Julius Mays (34) as he was trapped by Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein, left, as Louisville defeated Kentucky 80-77 on Saturday December 29, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

The Kentucky-Louisville regular-season matchup in Rupp Arena next season will be genuinely historic. As best as I can tell, the meeting between the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament champions (UK) and the 2013 NCAA winners (U of L) will be the first time that Kentucky has played in a game in Lexington featuring the two most recent national champions.

It will be only the third such meeting in UK hoops history anywhere. In December of the 1948-49 campaign, UK (the 1948 NCAA champ) went on the road to beat Holy Cross (the 1947 winner) 51-48. The 1997-98 Maui Invitational saw Arizona (1997 national champion) whip Kentucky (1996 victor) 89-74.

That next season's Cats-Cards face-off has a unique historic resonance is another log on the fire for those who are already claiming the 2013-14 Kentucky-Louisville showdown the most anticipated game in Rupp history.

Is it?

First, let's define the category. An "anticipated game" is one that gets blood pumping the second it comes out on the schedule. Not all games that ultimately carry a big buzz are marked by such off-season anticipation.

With that disclaimer, here is my super seven of the most anticipated Kentucky games ever played in Rupp Arena:

7. Cool Kyle's farewell, 1979-80. In 1980, Senior Day for beloved point guard Kyle Macy was looked forward to/dreaded with zeal from Pikeville to Paducah. When the day finally came, Macy smiled his way through a ceremony that oft draws tears. The Peru, Ind., product then scored 18 points to key a 71-65 victory over Mississippi State.

6. A revenge rocking of the Jayhawks, 1990-91. During Rick Pitino's first season as Kentucky coach, his team of only eight scholarship players went to Allen Fieldhouse and was humiliated by Roy Williams and Kansas, 150-95. For UK backers, that result created a massive yearning for vengeance.

When KU came to Rupp the next season, a Kentucky fan held up a sign: Judgement Day is Here. It was, too, with UK point guard Sean Woods compiling 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds as Kentucky rocked (and chalked) the Jayhawks 88-71.

5. Rick returns in red, 2001-02. When Rick Pitino rocked the Kentucky fandom by agreeing to coach hated intrastate rival Louisville, it became a statewide obsession wondering what reception Ricky P. would face in Rupp. When the game came on Dec. 29, 2001, emotions were raw, and some of the signs directed at Pitino were mean. UK's 82-62 beat-down of its former coach wasn't much of a game, but it was a cathartic release for a fan base whose feelings had been hurt.

4. A Super Bowl Sunday in Rupp, 1983-84. When it was announced that Kentucky, with twin towers Melvin Turpin and Sam Bowie, was going to play Houston with star big man Akeem Olajuwon (he hadn't yet added the "H" in front of his first name) on the day (Jan. 22) of the NFL's biggest game, the hype was, well, Super Bowl worthy.

The game lived up to the build-up. With Kenny Walker (20 points, 10 rebounds), Turpin (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Bowie (18 rebounds) coming up huge, No. 3 Kentucky beat No. 4 Houston 74-67.

3. Dream Game revenge, 1983-84. Kentucky and Louisville went from 1959 until the 1983 NCAA Tournament without playing each other. With a berth in the '83 Final Four at stake, the Cats and Cards fought a stirring battle that was not settled until U of L won in overtime. The Dream Game finally forced Kentucky to start scheduling other in-state teams.

When the 1983-84 schedule came out, Louisville was Kentucky's season opener in Rupp. Raising the anticipation more, UK big man Sam Bowie was returning after missing two full seasons with leg injuries. In the game, the No. 2 Cats put a revenge-is-sweet whipping on the No. 6 Cards, 65-44.

2. Battle of blue bloods, 2011-12. For North Carolina's visit to Rupp in Dec., 2011, one online ticket brokerage was asking $3,250 for lower arena seats. That might have been a bargain for a game that featured both a rematch of a 2011 NCAA tourney round of eight matchup and the two teams that entered the 2011-12 season universally ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

The game was electric, as Kentucky won 73-72 after Anthony Davis blocked a potential game-winning jumper by John Henson.

1. Champ vs. champ, 2013-14. You have the long-standing coaching rivalry (loathing) between Rick Pitino and John Calipari. You have a veteran-stacked Louisville against Kentucky boasting, arguably, the most ballyhooed incoming freshman class ever.

Conventional wisdom is the Cats and Cards will start next season ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

The return of U of L's Russ Smith — he of the 80 points scored in his last three games in Lexington — brings the whole "Russ Arena" story line back into play.

To top it off, you have intrastate rivals facing off as the past two national champions.

While I hate to be a captive of the now, this upcoming season's Kentucky-Louisville meeting is going to be the most anticipated UK game ever played in Rupp Arena.

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