Kentucky-Louisville: State rivals in Final Four
Think Kentucky vs. Louisville is a big deal during the regular
Try the Final Four.
Top-seeded Kentucky set up a Bluegrass showdown in the bayou on
Sunday, romping past Baylor 82-70 in the South Regional final. The
Wildcats took control with a 16-0 run in the first half, led by 20
at the break and cruised to their second straight Final Four.
Waiting in New Orleans: their rival from the hoops-crazed
Louisville had already won its regional, then watched as
Kentucky completed the most important matchup ever between schools
that are about 65 miles apart. They meet annually during the
regular season – the Wildcats won 69-62 on New Year’s Eve – and
have played four times in the NCAA tournament.
But never in the Final Four.
”We know it’s going to be a great game,” Kentucky’s Darius
That would be a contrast from the win over Baylor – a very good
team with a daring fashion sense that was simply no match for coach
John Calipari’s latest group of Fab Freshmen. Trailing 42-22 at
halftime, the Bears never got closer than 10 the rest of the way,
and that was long after Kentucky had taken its foot off the
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18
points and 11 rebounds, and Terrence Jones dazzled in all the
overlooked areas: rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
”This team is better than I thought,” Baylor coach Scott Drew
said. ”This is the best team we faced all year … probably in a
couple of years.”
Two years ago, the bears lost to eventual national champion Duke
in another regional final.
”Duke was a good team,” Drew said, ”but Kentucky is
Now, the Wildcats (36-2) move on to the national semifinals
Saturday to face Louisville.
Calipari planned to tell his team not to listen to all the hype.
The Wildcats have their sights on a national title, and Louisville
is merely a roadblock on the way to that goal.
”I’ll tell them to get off the message boards, get off Twitter
and Facebook,” he said. ”Don’t buy into it. We’re going to New
Orleans to play a basketball game. Forget about this tournament.
Let’s go be as good as we can be as a team.”
But it’s impossible to get away from the extra significance this
game has for both programs.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino led Kentucky to a national title in
1996. Then he left for the NBA, only to the return to the college
ranks at the Wildcats’ rival school, sparking plenty of
Calipari, who has been at Kentucky for three seasons, was asked
about his relationship with Pitino.
”It’s fine,” Calipari said. ”I mean, we don’t send each other
Christmas cards. But I see him in public. Or in recruiting, we’ll
spend some time together.”
Kidd-Gilchrist shrugged when someone asked about playing the
”I’m just worried about us,” he said. ”I don’t worry about
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are the latest freshman stars in
Calipari’s one-and-done system, two guys who will likely be off to
the NBA before they really learned their way around campus.
Two years ago, John Wall led Kentucky to the regional final.
Last season, Brandon Knight helped the Wildcats reach the Final
Four. Now, with those guys in the NBA – and Kidd-Gilchrist and
Davis likely to be following shortly – Big Blue is again positioned
to claim its first national title since 1998.
”There are some opinions that will never change,” Calipari
said. ”All I’m trying to do is coach these young people.”
But for all the talk about his freshmen, Calipari is getting
plenty of contributions from those who hung around beyond their
first year. Start with Jones, a sophomore forward who passed up the
draft. He scored just one point in the opening half, but in the end
his fingerprints were all over Kentucky’s dominating performance:
nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals – most in
the first 10 minutes.
”It’s kind of hard to play us,” Davis said. ”We’re very long
and very athletic. It makes it tough on the other team.”
Quincy Acy led Baylor with 22 points, and Pierre Jackson added
21. Not enough. Not nearly enough.
”They’re a great team,” Acy said. ”They’ve got some good
dudes down there.”
With Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III cheering
from the stands, Acy tried to send an early message early that the
Bears (30-8) would not be intimidated by the Wildcats.
Jones was going in for a fastbreak layup when the 235-pound Acy
came up from behind, took a whack at the ball but mainly just
crashed into the Kentucky player, sending him flying into the
Baylor cheerleaders along the baseline. Jones was OK, and the
officials doled out a flagrant foul on Acy.
The Bears, seemingly inspired by Acy’s bravado, ripped off an
8-0 run that led Calipari to call a quick timeout. He already had
yanked Doron Lamb from the game for trying to make the highlight
reels rather than taking a layup. The sophomore guard passed up a
clear path to the basket, instead opting for a lob pass to the
trailing Davis, who missed the dunk.
After Quincy Miller hit an uncontested 3-pointer from the top of
the lane to give Baylor a 10-5 lead, Calipari lashed into his young
”I told them we’ve got to step on the gas here,” he said.
Boy, did they ever. Sixteen consecutive points, an NBA-like
display of defensive dominance and easy baskets that sent the
Georgia Dome, and the predominantly blue-clad crowd, into a
They might as well have cut down the nets right then.
”It’s a great feeling to be part of something special,” Davis
Kentucky’s only serious scare came early in the second half when
Davis went down with an injured left knee. The 6-foot-10 freshman
was driving to the basket when he banged into Baylor’s Perry Jones
III, going down hard along the baseline. A hush fell over the
massive stadium as Davis, writhing in pain, grabbed at his
Finally, he limped to the bench, but it was clear the injury
wasn’t too serious when the trainers kept flexing the leg, then
rubbed it with an ointment to ease the pain. Just a couple of
minutes later, he was back in the game.
”The knee is doing fine,” Davis said. ”I wasn’t going to sit
out, especially with a trip to the Final Four (one the line). All
of us want to go to the Final Four.”
Louisville will be waiting.
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