New Orleans Although the bracket was set up for it to happen, second-seeded Missouri’s loss to Norfolk State in the second round in Omaha, Neb., ended all hope of one more Border War showdown between Kansas University and arch-rival Mizzou.
But that didn’t keep the topic of college basketball’s greatest rivalries from coming up at the Superdome on Thursday.
As top-seeded Kentucky prepares to face No. 4 seed Louisville in the first of two national semifinals Saturday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino shared his unique perspective on the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville and its place in the conversation.
“People always ask me what the best rivalry is,” Pitino said. “Purists will say it’s North Carolina-Duke because they are in the same league. I have a different perspective. You all watched ‘Glory Road.’ It all started with the racial lines in Louisville, Ky. We are the minority university. They (Kentucky) are the university of the privileged, so to speak. That’s where the rivalry really started. It was thrown out of the window when Tubby Smith became the first African-American coach (at Kentucky). The hatred wasn’t based on race any longer. That was over. I did everything humanly possible to recruit Louisville to end those lines because I didn’t like it. The lines are no longer racially motivated. It’s just pure hatred.”
During his legendary coaching career, Pitino has been the head coach at Kentucky and Louisville, along with Boston, Providence and various stops in the NBA. His 1996 UK team won the national championship, defeating current Kentucky coach John Calipari’s UMass team in the Final Four.
With the two marquee coaches squaring off once again, the rematch from their meeting in the regular season as well as the hot-and-cold nature of their friendship were both prominent topics Thursday. Still, the UK-UL rivalry seemed to draw as much attention as anything.
“It makes it a little bigger for the state,” Louisville senior Kyle Kuric said. “Fans get into it a lot more than they usually would. It’s just another game for us, and we’re going to look at it like that and play as hard as we would in any other game.”
As for the rivalry’s importance Saturday, that’s up for debate.
“It isn’t that hard for us (to focus),” Kentucky guard Darius Miller said. “It is something that we have been doing all year. We don’t really pay any attention to any outside sources. We know it is a huge rivalry. It is huge for the fans, but we aren’t looking at it like that. This is just our next game, and we are going to continue to prepare just like we have all year and have fun with it.”
Here’s a look at some more colorful quotes from the two other teams at this year’s Final Four:
n Louisville point guard Peyton Siva, on Kentucky forward Terrence Jones: “I’ve known Terrence since the fourth grade. I talk to him a lot. He is a real good guy, a real good friend and a great person.”
n Calipari on his Wildcats’ chances of beating an NBA team: “This team could not beat one NBA team, not one. The worst one in the league, we could not beat. The whole point of this is getting a group of players to play together. People ask me if it’s hard to get those players to play together. I tell them what’s hard: coaching bad players. Coaching good players, if they are good-hearted people, they will (play together).”
n UK forward Terrence Jones, on how much pressure is on the Wildcats: “As much pressure as it would be if it was anyone. Being in the Final Four is pressure enough. With being the No. 1 team and having the target on our back that we have had all year, it just adds pressure as it is.”
n Louisville freshman Chane Behanan, who was recruited by Pitino and Calipari, on the similarities between the coaches: “They were pretty much the same and told me the same things. They both said that if I work hard, I will earn what I put into it. They are both Italian. They both are tremendous coaches and passionate about what they do. They are very experienced and love to win.”