The Stakes of the Battle of the Bluegrass

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BY CHRIS HAAS

Kevin Ware, backup guard turned national hero, was not a fan of the “beat UK” chant that surfaced at the end of the Missouri State game on December 17th. He said:

“It gets old; it’s boring. It’s just another game. Nobody’s from here except a couple guys on the team. We really don’t get into the whole UK-Louisville rivalry. It’s just another game for us. A lot of people take it to that further extent, all the UK and U of L bashing each other. And even with a lot of stuff that they put on us this year, we really don’t care that Kentucky exists. We just look at them as another school.”

It’s understandable why he would take this stance. The pressure surrounding this game can be paralyzing, even for players that have plenty of experience playing on big stages. It’s one game, during the regular season… in December. It’s not an elimination game, and it’s not always an indicator of future success.

I remember the red tee-shirts from 1998 that read “First in the Country,  Second in the State.” Kentucky won the National Championship in 1998 under Tubby Smith, but lost to Louisville 79-76 in Rupp Arena. Kentucky was the better team and had the better season but Louisville won the game in December. At the conclusion of March, both sides were printing tee-shirts. It’s not logical but there’s plenty at stake:

What Kentucky fans will say if Kentucky wins:

That’s 1-5 since John Calipari took over. One out six is the ratio I would expect from “little brother.” The “one and done” game is alive and well, as these U.K. youngsters get the confidence boost they needed to propel them into conference play and beyond. Calipari and his Cats verified that last year was an anomaly as they set their sights on a return to the Final Four. No team has played a tougher non-conference schedule, so these Cats will be battle-tested come March.

The young Cats demonstrated they can beat anyone by taking out the defending champs and the sixth-ranked team in the country. They also played their best game of the season on the biggest stage yet, silencing “nay-sayers” who questioned these youngsters’ poise. Calipari, once again, displays his uncanny ability to get 18  year-olds to mature at light speed, as his freshman finally show the cohesiveness any good ‘team’ possesses. Talent continues to trump experience in the “Battle of the Bluegrass.”

What Louisville fans will say if Louisville wins:

Rick Pitino is hitting his prime late in his coaching career. One year removed from the “Year of the Cardinal,” Louisville’s momentum continues to build in the in-state rivalry. Pitino wins his second “Battle of the Bluegrass” game in as many tries, this time in the unfriendly confines of Rupp Arena. Or is it “Russ Arena?” Senior Russ Smith came into the game averaging 27 points in Rupp over three games and he did not disappoint in his 4th  and (likely) final game.

Louisville proved its gaudy rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency were not a result of their weak out of conference schedule by beating a talented opponent in Kentucky. Louisville looks primed to return to the title game with a stacked and experienced roster. Experience continues to trump talent in the “Battle of the Bluegrass.”

Buckle up.

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