Forget that engendering any warm-and-fuzzy goodwill with the Kentucky folks, however. Now that Pitino isn’t theirs, Kentucky fans hate him, too.
“Since we got Rick, (the rivalry) is more on their part,” Robert Coke said. “They’re used to getting the cream of the crop and being top-notch, so it’s hard when they see someone else doing well.”
Think it’s a coincidence that Kentucky sped up its plans to renovate Rupp Arena after Louisville decided to build the KFC Yum! Center?
But the bad blood has been simmering for generations.
Kentucky never scheduled in-state schools under coach Adolph Rupp, and former assistant Joe B. Hall dutifully followed suit when he took over as coach. Gov. John Y. Brown stepped in following their matchup in the 1983 NCAA Mideast Regional finals, now known around the state as The Dream Game, and told the schools to start playing each other.
Kentucky currently holds bragging rights in the annual in-state rumble, winning 18 of the 29 games, including a 69-62 victory at Rupp Arena on Dec. 31.
“All you hear from the fans is, `Don’t lose to the Cardinals. Whatever happens, Big Blue Nation better not lose to Louisville,’” recalled former Kentucky guard John Wall.
Fan is short for fanatic, after all.
There are, however, some fans who can view the rivalry with detachment. Or at least reason.
Coke and his wife, Denise, sat behind Stahl, his brother Jim Joe, and their brother-in-law, Jamie Solomon, at open practice Friday, and security didn’t need to run interference. When the Cardinals took the floor, one of those standing to applaud was Ken Berkins, proudly wearing his Kentucky blue after flying all the way from the Middle East to see his beloved Wildcats in the Final Four.
“My family would probably hang me if they saw me clapping for Louisville,” Berkins admitted. “But we’re just unbelievably excited to have two teams from Kentucky in the Final Four.”
Solomon even said he’d root for Louisville if the Cardinals beat Kentucky on Saturday night.
“But I’m a transplant,” Solomon quickly added, as Pat Stahl shook his head in disgust.
Both coaches were reminded Friday about a comment Calipari made back in October about Kentucky’s uniqueness, which sure sounded like it was a slap at Louisville.