LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Wait a minute. What's going on here?
We're trying to get worked up for another installment of the University of Louisville-University of Kentucky basketball rivalry and all the coaches want to do is throw flowers at each other?
Cardinals are red. Wildcats are blue. I can sell you a bridge, if you believe all this poo.
Rick Pitino, speaking to reporters on Friday, said: "I root for (UK) all the time. I wanted them to win the championship. I was glad, (John Calipari) has paid his dues, he's given a lot of time and energy to this game. He deserved to win a championship."
He then, believe this or not, stood up from his news conference seat, opened his sweatsuit jacket and revealed a blue "Refuse to Lose" T-shirt.
Over in Lexington, at about the same time, Calipari was holding court, saying that U of L is, "a team that should be or is the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. . . . They are a well-oiled machine. We are a work in progress."
Calipari then extended both arms above his head and, in dramatic fashion, flashed up two "L's" with thumbs and forefingers.
Well, the quotes really happened, even if the gestures did not.
The truth is, over the past year or so, if there is rancor among the fan bases (and there is), the tone has been just the opposite from the top. Calipari and Pitino have been very respectful of each other publicly, particularly at last season's Final Four.
I wondered if that experience in New Orleans, where fans seemed to get along splendidly (with a few exceptions) and seemed to recognize the magnitude of the moment with both being part of something larger and something special, would change the rivalry.
Judging from fans I've talked to, I can't say it has.
Leave it to a guy from Africa to put it all in perspective. Asked how he explained the rivalry to his parents, who will be traveling in from Senegal for Saturday's game, U of L junior Gorgui Dieng explained, "I told them, these two schools, they hate each other. But the good thing is, they don't speak English."
Now you're talking our language, Gorgui.
Look a little closer and you'll see the same backhands, of course. Calipari never mentions Peyton Siva without bringing up the time he saw Siva playing against Bledsoe in the Derby Classic. Bledsoe is a second-year NBA starter. Siva is a fourth-year senior.
Cal got a nice one in on Friday, saying of Montrezl Harrell, "And then you've got this kid Harrell, who is playing 13 minutes a game, because of the team thats' good. If he were playing 20 to 25 minutes a game, he'd be a Top 15 pick."
Translation: Play more for me, get drafted higher. (Harrell, by the way, plays 19.3 minutes a game).
Pitino, of course, had to work in his own. Before his gracious comments about UK, he noted, "I coached at Kentucky. They were nice enough to put my name in the rafters there."
It seems the universal answer to any UK fans who wants to rip Pitino now: "Name in the rafters."
Asked about the differences between the two fan bases, Pitino noted that UK's is more adept at getting into its team's road games, and that U of L fans have the challenge of living at ground-zero of the rivalry, in the state's largest city where it interacts with UK fans. He added that the intermarriage of UK and U of L fans "has hurt our society."
On the game itself, particularly the on-court matchups, the coaches were more substantive.
While Calipari said taking care of the ball and dealing with U of L's physical defense are concerns, he also said that a scrambling, frenetic game may be more to his team's liking than one in which the opponent drops back into a set defense and forces his young team to run plays.
"They do a great job of trying to muck up the game," Calipari said. "The good news for us is that this is a game of less plays and more players making plays. That plays to our favor. It's less having to execute, which we are too young to really be a great execution team, and it's more of reacting to two-on-ones, three-on-twos, four-on-threes, attacking the basket, stuff that we do better."
Pitino, even though his team opened as a 7-point favorite, refused to acknowledge an advantage in any, single, area -- including home-court advantage. It was a feat. (He also noted that listening to the pointspread guys can lose you large sums of money.)
He said, "This is a team that is formidable at every position," and said, "they have dramatically improved the past two weeks."
He noted that while his team leads the nation in turnover margin and is known for its pressure defense, turned that around to note, "In order to put pressure on them you have to have to shoot a good percentage, and very few teams shoot a good percentage against them."
I guess this just means that tomorrow in the KFC Yum! Center, everyone will just be one, big, happy family.
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