Louisville beat Western Kentucky -- and Gets Kentucky next Saturday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville basketball players were gathered outside the hotel conference room where their meal was served before the Western Kentucky game Saturday night.
Peyton Siva. Luke Hancock. Stephan Van Treese. A few others. They were doing what college players do when they're not playing basketball – watching college basketball.
As U of L coach Rick Pitino entered the room, he noticed that the basketball game his guys were watching on television was Kansas at Ohio State. Neither the Jayhawks nor the Buckeyes have a spot on the Louisville schedule. Pitino was surprised -- and said so.
"I said, ‘Guys, Kentucky's on,' " Pitino said.
"He was just kind of shocked that we weren't watching that team play," Hancock said.
That team has a name – defending national champions. That team has another name – the team that has won four consecutive games against U of L by an average of nearly 10 points. That team has another name – the team the Cardinals have not beaten since John Calipari became the head coach.
That team is Kentucky, which upgraded its record by defeating Marshall, 82-54, even without the U of L players paying a bit of attention. The U of L-UK game is Saturday at 4 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center. That game is a game Louisville needs to win to stop the chatter that Calipari has placed a sleeper hold on this rivalry and has no plans to let go.
"Kentucky was playing Marshall," Hancock said. "That (Kansas-Ohio State) game was a better game. We're not worried about Kentucky until we play Kentucky."
The time to worry – or at least consider the implications – is now. Louisville (11-1) overpowered an injured Western Kentucky team, 78-55, in Bridgestone Arena Saturday night.
Russ Smith shot poorly and turned the ball over four times – and still scored 20 points. Peyton Siva fouled out after missing five of six shots. Gorgui Dieng still wasn't ready to test his injured left wrist – and won't be until at least Wednesday (leaving Pitino to forecast that the chances of Dieng playing against UK were 50-50).
Didn't matter. Louisville rolled because Wayne Blackshear scored 17 points, giving him 68 points in the Cards' last five games. Blackshear is shooting the ball as if he believes every shot will go in. Montrezl Harrell didn't miss any of his five shots and swatted four taken by the Hilltoppers. His confidence is also rising. Chane Behanan played with poise and power.
By the end of the night, nobody cared about the margin. Over the final three minutes, the primary cheer that rang through Bridgestone Arena was, "Beat UK." One Louisville fan dressed in a Number 2 jersey was escorted from the building by security for taunting a guy wearing a blue UK baseball hat. More than a few WKU fans appeared to join in the cheer.
"It's definitely something I haven't seen," Hancock said. "I'm from ACC country. I've seen Duke and (North) Carolina. But this is on another level from all of that."
That is Hancock's assessment after living in Louisville for nearly 1 ½ years – and sitting on the bench as the Wildcats defeated U of L, 69-62, in Rupp Arena and then a second time, 69-61, in the national semifinals in New Orleans last season.
Considering Hancock is a newcomer to the fun, I asked him what puts this rivalry on another level.
"Just how much people care about it," he said "No one who is a Louisville fan says anything at the beginning of the year about any team, except Kentucky. All they say is, ‘Just beat Kentucky and we'll be fine.'
"Football, basketball, water polo, tennis, whatever it may be. These fans just want to beat Kentucky – and Kentucky wants to beat us."
Kentucky has beaten Louisville. There is not a player in the Louisville locker room who has beaten Kentucky – and guys like Peyton Siva and Stephan Van Treese have beaten Top 10 teams from Syracuse, Notre Dame and Connecticut over their careers.
"They know they're going to get ready for Kentucky at the right time," Pitino said.
And that time is this week. The U of L players didn't want to watch Kentucky Saturday, but they won't be able to avoid talk about the Wildcats this week.