“Similarities? We’ve both taken three teams to the Final Four, we both got fired in the NBA and we’re Italians with big noses,” Calipari said Friday. “I respect what he’s done, respect the program, respect the city and the school.”
No. 3 Kentucky (12-1) and No. 4 Louisville (12-1) renew their rivalry in the most anticipated yearly game in the Commonwealth on Saturday at Rupp Arena, where even the smallest details are scrutinized.
So when a video came out this month showing Calipari and Pitino chatting at a high school game in Mount Washington, Ky., there was an abundance of speculation about just what the two coaches discussed.
“We don’t send Christmas cards, but we’re cordial to each other,” Calipari said. “I went up to him, talked to him, told him he’s doing a fabulous job with his team, the way they’re playing, blah, blah, blah. And he said, `Your team’s really good and dah, dah, dah.’ OK?
“He said `I hope we beat you’ and I said `I hope we beat you’ and I went and got a Diet Coke. That was about it. I don’t know what to tell you.”
The rivalry is as much about the two rabid fan bases as it is the players.
Between the two schools, 13 players have never participated in a Kentucky-Louisville game. This time, the schools have the highest combined ranking in series history. But Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis said he’s recognized the passion simply by the amount of tweets he’s received from fans about beating Louisville.
“We guess it’s a big deal for them,” Davis said.
Davis hears even more back and forth about what fans think of the respective leaders of the program.
“(They think) that they hate each other. One always goes out and parties when the other one loses,” Davis said. “They look alike, but coach Pitino, I’ve never seen him coach so I can’t say how they remind me of each other.”
“It’s two different programs and two different leagues. We’re not really recruiting against each other. It’s just this one time and our fans are going to be happy or their fans are going to be happy, and that’s it,” Calipari said. “As far as our team, I’m telling you we respect them. Our players do not have animosity or hatred.”
Louisville has been quiet since its 20-game home winning streak was snapped in a 71-68 loss to No. 12 Georgetown on Wednesday night. The Cardinals did not have any media availability ahead of this game and have lost the last two in the series.
“I think Kentucky is the better basketball team right now,” Pitino said after the loss to the Hoyas. “Running up and down and trying to outscore Kentucky would be a futile attempt to try to get a `W’.”