Who’s afraid of Louisville and Pitino? Not Calipari’s ‘Cats

The pressure seems to be getting to these guys, don't you think. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The pressure seems to be getting to these guys, don't you think? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

In the mind of Kentucky fans, there could be no greater indignity than the thought of these mighty Wildcats arriving at the 2012 Final Four and being undone not just by Louisville but by a Louisville team coached by Rick Pitino. It would be worse than Christian Laettner undoing the Unforgettables as coached by Pitino. It would be …

It would be like Laettner’s school (Duke) losing to North Carolina in the Final Four — with Mike Krzyzewski coaching the Tar Heels.

Even before the delicious match was officially made, Pitino — who coached Kentucky to the sixth of its seven NCAA titles — was waxing evocative. “There will be people in Kentucky who will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us,” he told reporters Saturday after his Cardinals overhauled Florida to take the West Regional. “They’ve got to put the fences up on the bridges.”

The days leading to Saturday’s Final Four collision will be fraught with angst in the Bluegrass, especially for the Big Blue side. “These people are crazy,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Sunday, speaking of his fanatic fans. “As a coach, it’s what you want. But when you’re in it — these people are crazy.”

And here we pause to offer this word from a native Kentuckian (me) who is a UK grad (1977) and the son of a graduate of Louisville’s dental school (1953): Relax, ‘Cat fans. It’s not going to happen. Louisville and Pitino will make Kentucky sweat, but the ‘Ville isn’t going to win Saturday in New Orleans.

Louisville: Very good team. Kentucky: Great team. There’s your difference.

We saw it again Sunday in the Georgia Dome. We saw why this NCAA tournament began with many fine teams but only one Kentucky. The Wildcats opened the South Regional final by falling behind Baylor 10-5, and the Bears were thought to be one of the few teams with the raw talent to hang with Kentucky. Next thing you knew, Baylor was down 40-18.

Said Baylor’s Scott Drew: “As a coach you ask yourself, ‘Was that team as good as I expected?’ Kentucky was actually better than I thought.”

The Bears’ Perry Jones III, considered a probable NBA lottery pick, made one first-half basket against Kentucky.  Brady Heslip, who scored seven points in the first six minutes of Baylor’s dismissal of Xavier on Friday, officially didn’t take a first-half shot Sunday. (He did get fouled  in the act of shooting.) The defense that never got a grip against Indiana in the regional semi threw a hammerlock on the Bears, and that’s usually what Kentucky does.

Offensively? Well, Calipari’s Dribble Drive offense wrought its customary divide-and-conquer havoc, and the Wildcats turned defensive stops into fast-break highlights. Drew again: “Our goal was no dunks, but that went out the window four seconds into the game.”

That was an exaggeration — the first Wildcat dunk came after 6 1/2 minutes — but that’s kind of what Kentucky does: It inspires hyperbole in outsiders.

But not, significantly, among Wildcats. They don’t seem overly impressed with anything they do. Said Calipari: “This team hasn’t been rattled all year.”

That mettle will be tested during the run-up to the Louisville game — actually the second Louisville game of the season; Kentucky beat the Cardinals 69-62 in Rupp Arena on New Year’s Eve — but it’s an exam these Wildcats should ace. As center Anthony Davis said, his team will approach Saturday’s national semifinal as “Kentucky against the next team in our way.”

Calipari’s recruiting, which entails roaming far and wide to sign gifted prospects who aren’t apt to stay long, will actually be a boon. See, none of the Wildcats’ starters are from Kentucky.

Asked if his task to block distractions would be greater if he had five guys from Maysville, Ky. (the hometown of both sixth man Darius Miller and this correspondent), Calipari said: “Probably. Me personally, I’m not from Kentucky. I say, ‘[Louisville is] in a different league and we play them once a year. Why are you [fans] getting all worked up?’ ”

The greatest pressure will fall on Calipari, who was once seen as a Pitino protege but who characterized their relationship this way Sunday: “We don’t send each other Christmas cards.”

Are they friends? Acquaintances? “Friendly acquaintances,” he said, prompting a laugh from the assembled media.

It’s not impossible that Pitino could outcoach Calipari — Pitino has outcoached a lot of folks in his time — but the manpower gap will be too great for even the maestro to span. On its best day, Louisville is a very good team. On its worst day, Kentucky is still nearly a great one. There’s your difference.

By Mark Bradley

75 comments Add your comment

Beast from the East

March 25th, 2012
7:20 pm

Don’t count out Louisville yet. This will be one of the best defenses UK has faced. Anything can happen in March Madness.

Kathy Boone Reel

March 25th, 2012
7:25 pm

Well said, my old friend. As a former Maysville resident (actually neighbor) and UK alumni, you’ve written a post that many of your old friends will appreciate. Now from your lips to the basketball gods’ ears. LOL!

SSIgator

March 25th, 2012
7:27 pm

“In the mind of Kentucky fans, there could be no greater indignity than the thought of these mighty Wildcats arriving at the 2012 Final Four and being undone not just by Louisville but by a Louisville team coached by Rick Pitino.”

Better stock up on your Kleenex now for next weekend Mark because your worst fears will be coming to reality.

sports

March 25th, 2012
7:28 pm

great to see this rest of the ACC trash put out of the tournament

sux to be you mark....

March 25th, 2012
7:33 pm

u aint naked……but ur wearing UK underwear……

Brian

March 25th, 2012
8:07 pm

Kentucky will prevail at the final 4. Mark is right

doc

March 25th, 2012
8:18 pm

refs are so bad

wild'n

March 25th, 2012
8:55 pm

kentucky looked pretty unbeatable today, that’s for sure.
even friday night it looked like indiana brought its A game (offensively at least), and what did the cats do? put up over 100. crazy good

Legend of Len Barker

March 25th, 2012
9:18 pm

If only Kentucky had faced Middle Tennessee instead of Baylor…

Delbert D.

March 25th, 2012
9:26 pm

Madness is a system that allows universities to rent a player for one year. Reading this column is as close as I’ve come to watching a college basketball game this season.

Hubie Green

March 25th, 2012
9:39 pm

This year’s tournament strategy seems to be to play poorly for 35 minutes and then outscore your opponent 12-3 to end the game.

Kurt G

March 25th, 2012
9:42 pm

written by a typical UK fan…

TomB

March 25th, 2012
9:55 pm

Ketucky will definitely lose now. Call it the Bradley curse.

Greg

March 25th, 2012
10:08 pm

I think Kentucky is better than the other 3 teams going to New Orleans, but I don’t see them as a certain winner in either game. Baylor gets a lot of hype for their athleticism, but they lost 5 of 6 to Mizzou and Kansas. 4 of those 5 losses were by double digits. UK should have beaten them easily and they did. Nobody seems to be taking Louisville seriously because they are winning ugly, but that’s exactly the type of team that can give UK problems…not Indiana and Baylor teams who played UK’s game because that’s what their styles of play dictated that they do.

Paul in NH

March 25th, 2012
10:32 pm

“It would be like Laettner’s school (Duke) losing to North Carolina in the Final Four — with Mike Krzyzewski coaching the Tar Heels.”

I love the simile, but when you consider the relative popularity of the
schools, it would be more like UNC losing to Duke with Roy Williams coaching the Blue Devils. Only thing worse would be UNC losing to Duke with Matt Doherty coaching the Blue Devils.

Remarkable

March 25th, 2012
11:03 pm

Kentucky will wilt under the pressure of Louisville’s defense. Kentucky hasn’t been tested by any team yet. They have been playing the Mid-America or Sun Belt type competion.

KentuckyDunks.com

March 25th, 2012
11:04 pm

Kentucky is the heart of college basketball. Louisville has shocked everyone. They have had a good run, but it is over now. Mark is exactly right. Anything can happen, but truth is truth, numbers are numbers and Kentucky is in a class by itself this year!

Just Asking?

March 25th, 2012
11:07 pm

Don’t you think that the more Kentucky says they are focused on the next team, no matter who it is, the more they must really be thinking all along that they didn’t really want to be playing the Cards again? Just having fun? Yea. Just wait until they get that pressure in a neutral gym.

Just Asking?

March 25th, 2012
11:10 pm

How long will it be before Calipari brings down Kentucky just like he has done everywhere else he has been? The coach should have to take the sanctions with him when he leaves. Just saying!

John

March 25th, 2012
11:26 pm

I think kentucky will win it all but im gonna go ahead and say no team is better than another team in this tournament because two 15 seeds beat two 2 seeds and a 16 seed almost beat syracuse so you never know. Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, and Ohio st. are each really good and they all have good players and they are all good and if kentucky gets beat by louisville I will want them to win it all because they will represent the state of kentucky (but I might move to Alaska if that happens)so remember anything could happen you never know but now i gotta go listen to louisville fans to see what they say and i am just gonna say nice things back because what they say might backfire and plus i looked on a comment board on a website about the kentucky game and a louisville fan said he hopes all of kentucky’s players break their ankles well he said mostly anthony davis but did you see the indiana game well he got in foul trouble and we still won

John

March 25th, 2012
11:31 pm

i messed up in my comment above me I MEANT TO JUST PUT THEY WERE GOOD NOT THAT TWICE JUST ONCE SORRY

Whopper Dawg

March 26th, 2012
12:31 am

For once, Cal has a team that can hit free throws. They are gonna be some kind of tough to beat.

Big Enos Burdette

March 26th, 2012
12:59 am

Big freakin deal. Neither one has a football team worth a crap.

joe

March 26th, 2012
1:54 am

The setup for this game is very much like the Georgetown – Villanova game back in 1985. UK should win, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Had enough

March 26th, 2012
2:07 am

Don’t get a big head Mark.

Birmingham Jacket

March 26th, 2012
5:34 am

Basketball is soooo interesting. Thanks for covering Mark. NOT!

Let’s see… There’s more posts under Chip Towers recruiting section for CFB.

Please. Just make basketball go away.

UGA '97

March 26th, 2012
5:45 am

@Birmingham Jacket

For once GT and UGA fans agree. I despise BB too.

Football is just about here!

[...] has since had a falling out. “We don’t send each other Christmas cards,” Calipari said on Sunday. Louisville has a shot-swatter of its own, Gorgui Deng: his matchup with Davis will be a [...]

Buckeye

March 26th, 2012
6:49 am

DawginLex,

Let’s hope my Sophmores play your Freshman!

Beast from the East

March 26th, 2012
6:58 am

Buckeye,
Congrats on the Final Four!

Bill

March 26th, 2012
7:07 am

Mark Calipari’s teams have had to vacate the last two Final Fours he coached?Any concern among the Kentucky fans about this?

BobDawg

March 26th, 2012
7:37 am

Mark, I still can’t believe that Louisville beat UF. Pitino’s D change in the 2nd half did the trick, but they won’t be able to stay with the Cats… Buckeye, hoping for an Ohio State/Ky final to see who is King….

Jason

March 26th, 2012
7:45 am

It is the same ole same ole with people on this blog!! A bunch of BS!! If you don’t care about BB then why the heck are you on here reading?? And to say Kentucky has not been tested is ridiculous!! They went through the SEC regular season undefeated which included beating Florida (an elite 8 team which should have beaten Louisville) 3 times, Vanderbilt (a preseason top 10 team) twice, then North Carolina, Louisville, and Kansas in the pre-conference. Then in the NCAA they have beaten Iowa State, Indiana and Baylor. All the while playing the best defense and offense of any team playing right now. You can hate the Kentucky “brand” all you want and hate the Kentucky coach all you want. But you cant say they are not the best “team” playing. They may not win it all but these “kids” are playing as a unit of one and its the most amazing thing to watch!! Like it or not!!

[...] Who’s afraid of Louisville and Pitino? asks AJC’s Mark Bradley. [...]

Shug

March 26th, 2012
8:04 am

Rock chalk, Jayhawk!

Bub

March 26th, 2012
8:06 am

kantuckee plays in the weak sec. louisville plays in the big bad big east. they will beat kantuckee

Sloan

March 26th, 2012
8:26 am

Louisville vs. Kentucky, Pitino vs. Calipari, finally a game worth watching! If only the NCAA tournament committee could have devised a way for this to be for all the marbles!

RCB

March 26th, 2012
8:28 am

Let me translate the reality into easy to understand words. The guys recruited to Kentucky can’t spell the word “Kentucky” and couldn’t care less where you and your father were born, raised and schooled. And they won’t care the day after their last NCAA game. The University of Kentucky unapologetically offers a one year class in Professional basketball. So it is true they don’t get emotional about college “rivalries”, and it is equally true that they don’t get emotional about their “alma mater”. In the words of one actor athlete, “show me the money” is their only song and dance. Welcome to the NBA (urhhh- “NCAA finals”).

DawginLex

March 26th, 2012
8:33 am

RCB

Yeah, that’s why the team GPA is above 3.0 for 3 straight years and 2 of the players that left early were Academic All americans

Go get some new material RCB you big douchebag

All I'm Saying Is....

March 26th, 2012
8:37 am

With a week to prepare (Pitino) and a week of folks telling them how outstanding they are (KY) plus the same amount of time for both schools most recent two game winning streak to go ice cold, I’d give a slight edge to the Cardinals. The question isn’t whether KY will fall behind 10-5 as they did versus Baylor but whether Lousiville has the backcourt size to stay with KY. Baylor clearly did not and could not score against that size and certainly could not defend.

DawginLex

March 26th, 2012
8:57 am

Kentucky has better players than Louisville

Kentucky wins again

timbo2589

March 26th, 2012
9:02 am

The homer strikes again, go Louisville.

bill

March 26th, 2012
9:22 am

How can the NCAA continue to have whole teams go one and done and then come back the next year with 5 more one and doners and win a national championship. Kentucky is the best team but they are not college students and there is no way that the last two Kentucky teams met the graduation requirements. I hope Calipari and Pitino play an endless tie game like pushing the rock up the hill in Greek Mythology.

bill

March 26th, 2012
9:25 am

Actually the Duke Carolina juxtaposition is not accurate when you consider that the two ACC guys have never been caught cheating Calipari or jumping to the NBA and back to college. Additionally do you believe either coach in the bluegrass state will bethere in three years?

hank

March 26th, 2012
9:58 am

And it does not matter. The officials and the NCAA want Ohio State to bring some order to the SEC domination of athletics. The ‘Big 10′ will bring home the banner. I don’t like it but, there it is.

DawginLex

March 26th, 2012
9:59 am

bill

“Schools are not penalized for players pursuing professional careers as long as they are academically sound during their time at the school.”

NCAA Presidemt Mark Emmert, March 25, 2012 halftime interview on CBS

DawginLex

March 26th, 2012
10:00 am

bill

Care to comment about the Corey Magette cover up at Duke?

Care to comment about the academic accomplishments of Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers?

ANTOINEFORD

March 26th, 2012
10:35 am

Listen up. This team is one of the ten or twelve best of all time. They are gonna burn through the Final Four like Willie Nelson does a joint.

Buckeye

March 26th, 2012
10:35 am

hank,

In additional the Final Four, we just took the NCAA Fencing Title. What say you, Big Fella?

http://www.buckeyextra.com/content/stories/2012/03/26/0326-ohio-state-notebook.html

crackbaby

March 26th, 2012
10:45 am

Kentucky v. Ohio State final should be a great game. Jared Sullinger’s supporting cast is vastly underrated. Those guys are very talented and play well together. Thad Matta (never been a fan of his) has done a great job with them.

Kentucky is the Beast. Can those young’ens handle the pressure and distractions of the next week?