UK Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Calipari ran rings around Pitino off the court, too

Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino laughed with Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari before the game as Kentucky defeated Louisville 75-73 on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015 in Lexington, Ky.
Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino laughed with Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari before the game as Kentucky defeated Louisville 75-73 on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Ten takeaways to stir the Armageddon rehash:

10. Rick Pitino. If our state aspires for the Kentucky-Louisville men’s basketball series to replace North Carolina-Duke as the nation’s premier college hoops rivalry, one thing has to happen.

Pitino has to step it up.

After Saturday’s 75-73 UK win over U of L, the Louisville coach has now lost eight of nine against John Calipari-coached Kentucky teams. He’s lost 11 of his last 14 against UK overall. Amazingly, Pitino has lost 11 of his last 12 against non-Billy Gillispie-coached Kentucky teams.

It’s a stunning turnaround from Pitino’s 6-2 domination of Louisville when he sat on the Wildcats bench.

While UK fans are mightily enjoying the humbling of their “turn-Cat” former coach, the nation will start to lose interest in Kentucky-Louisville if it continues to be so one-sided.

Off the court, Pitino needs to up his rivalry game, too. Whatever message he was trying to send to taunting Kentucky fans with his now-infamous hand gesture Saturday, a coach of Pitino’s standing in his profession should be above that.

Given a potentially vast media platform after one of the few regular-season college basketball games that commands national interest, Pitino did not deign to field questions from reporters after the contest.

Explaining his news conference no-show, Pitino issued a statement Monday which said, in part, “Once every two years, it’s an extremely emotional and difficult experience for me to coach in Rupp Arena. I knew that when I accepted the job at Louisville, but it’s never easy.”

Which, as excuses go, just seems weak.

9. John Calipari. Before Louisville came to Rupp Arena, Calipari implored UK fans not to use the alleged prostitution scandal that has engulfed the U of L basketball program on signs or in chants during Saturday’s game.

As best as I could tell, no one did.

On the floor before Saturday’s tip-off, Calipari approached injured Louisville big man Mangok Mathiang, on crutches due to a broken bone in his foot, and appeared to wish him well.

After UK’s victory, Calipari spent the early part of his postgame news conference praising Louisville as a team that could make a deep March Madness run.

The contrast in comportment between our state’s two marquee men’s hoops coaches was striking. For my money, last week was one of Calipari’s best as Kentucky coach.

8. Pitino’s frustration. Since Calipari was hired at UK in 2009-10, Pitino has won 78.7 percent (178-48) of his games against teams other than Kentucky. He’s won 11.1 percent (1-8) of his games against UK.

7. Dominique Hawkins. When the former Madison Central star scored a career-high 13 points Saturday, it was the first time an in-state player scored in double figures for the Cats in a Kentucky-Louisville game since Darius Miller (Mason County) had 13 in UK’s 2012 Final Four victory over U of L.

The last in-state player to score in double figures for Louisville in Cats-Cards was Chane Behanan (Bowling Green) with 20 in U of L’s 2012-13 win.

(If you don’t consider Behanan, who grew up in Cincinnati before moving to Kentucky for his final two years of high school, as a product of the commonwealth, then Preston Knowles (Clark County) would be the last in-state, double-figure scorer for U of L against UK. He had 22 points versus the Cats in 2010-11).

6. Tyler Ulis. In two games against Louisville, the 5-foot-9 Ulis is shooting 60 percent from the floor (12-of-20) and 54.5 on three-pointers (6-of-11).

5. Mitch Barnhart coaching hires. In the major sports, coaches hired by the UK athletics director are now 19-18 against Louisville — 8-3 men’s basketball, 7-6 women’s basketball and 4-9 football.

4. Tom Jurich coaching hires. In the major sports, coaches hired by the U of L athletics director are now 25-26 against Kentucky — 5-12 men’s basketball, 8-8 women’s basketball, 12-6 football.

3. Rivalry of streaks. In men’s basketball, Kentucky has now beaten Louisville four in a row, eight of nine and 11 of 14. In women’s hoops, UK has bested U of L five in a row and six of seven. Meanwhile, in football the Cardinals have defeated the Wildcats five times in a row.

2. More dominant? Since the Cats-Cards football series renewed in 1994, Louisville has won 63.6 percent (14-8) against Kentucky.

Since the Cats-Cards men’s basketball series resumed in 1983, Kentucky has won 67.6 percent (25-12) against Louisville.

1. Cats-Cards NCAA rematch? The KFC Yum Center will serve as host for the 2016 men’s NCAA Tournament South Region (rounds of 16 and eight). By rule, Louisville cannot play on its home court in the men’s NCAAs. Kentucky, if it wins enough to be a top four seed, is all but certain to be placed in the South Region.

So if UK and U of L are to meet again this season, it likely will be in the Final Four.

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