LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s Kentucky and Louisville, one more time.
One of college basketball’s fiercest rivalries takes center stage Friday night when the Wildcats and defending national champion Cardinals meet in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis. The Bluegrass State showdown will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Colts, which will be configured to hold 35,000 basketball fans.
Those seats will be filled with fans clad in blue and red gear, many of whom ill make the 3-hour drive for the game they wouldn’t dare miss.
The schools have won the past two NCAA championships and are playing their best basketball of the season. Both fan bases expected their teams to reach the Midwest Region semifinal, and they also expect their schools to advance.
“I know one thing, Lucas Oil Stadium is going to have 45,000 to 50,000 people there,” said Kentucky season ticket holder Bob Baldwin, who plans on attending the game. “Even though it’s not set up for the whole gig like it was three to four years ago when they had the national championship there, it’s Kentucky and Louisville and it’s going to be crazy.”
Some Louisville and Kentucky fans left like they hit the lottery on Monday. Each school is allotted a block of 1,250 all-session tickets.
Indiana Sports Corp. spokesman John Dedman said in an email that the other 30,000 tickets will be sold to the general public or given to other groups, presumably sponsors.
One of the lucky ones was University of Louisville Board of Trustee member Jonathan Blue certainly feels that way about the four tickets he’ll receive for the game.
Even though Blue said he won’t know where his seats are until he arrives, he won’t give up his tickets for nothing in the world.
“I’m lucky just to be in the building,” Blue said. “Everybody knows I won’t pass up a chance to see the Cardinals play, and there’s no price that I’d take for these tickets.”
Kentucky-Louisville follows Michigan-Tennessee and is scheduled to tip off at 9:45 p.m. ET. Because of the game’s late start, some Wildcats and Cardinals plan to make it a day of it, maybe see some of the city, possibly have dinner and catch the first game before settling in for the contest that really matters to them.
This will be the 47th meeting between Kentucky and Louisville, including the fifth in the NCAA tournament. It’s the first meeting since the Wildcats beat the Cardinals two years ago in the national semifinal en route to their eighth national title.
Louisville fan Rob Baker vowed to see this game after the previous meeting in New Orleans.
“I’ll be there for sure this time,” Baker said while eating lunch in downtown Louisville on Monday. “It’ll be nice to see them get revenge.”
This game is considered a dream matchup because of the storied histories of schools located just 80 miles apart, with fan bases determined to follow them to the ends of the earth.
Big Blue Nation, the nickname for Kentucky’s large, fervent fan base, is well-known for invading road venues, especially tournaments or neutral-site games. This month’s Southeastern Conference tourney in Atlanta was a perfect example as they swamped Philips Arena and the city affectionately renamed “Cat-lanta” when they’re in town.
Louisville’s followers are just as dedicated when it comes to traveling. Blue pointed to the large Cardinals contingent in Indianapolis for last spring’s regional and the Final Four in Atlanta, where the team won its third title.
Friday will mark another battleground site between the schools and their fans excited over how the bracket brought them together for another showdown. It figures to be a hot ticket, with $55 single-session seats already selling for nearly three times their face value on StubHub.com.
Not surprisingly, web site spokesman Glenn Lehrman said that 46 percent of Midwest ticket sales are coming from Kentucky with 25 percent coming from Louisville. Whatever price Wildcats and Cardinals fans pay for those seats, they’ll feel like it was money well spent come tipoff.
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