Bluegrass rivalry hits the Big Easy

Kentucky-Louisville may not get the national hype of, say, North Carolina-Duke, but that doesn’t mean the Bluegrass rivalry isn’t just as big and intense as the Tobacco Road rows.

“It is in our state,” coach John Calipari after the first matchup of the two instate rivals in the NCAA tournament’s Final Four became a reality with Kentucky’s 82-70 victory over Baylor in the South Regional just a day after Louisville rallied to beat Florida 72-68 to win the West. “In our state, it is.”

Kentucky and Louisville have met four times in the NCAA tournament, including a 1983 regional title game that spurred the initiation of a regular-season series between the two schools that are connected by a 70-mile stretch of Interstate 64.

But that game in Knoxville, won in overtime by Louisville, was the closest they have come until now to meeting in the Final Four.

Calipari downplayed the notion that the rivalry will add anything more to what’s already at stake in the game.

“We’re playing a basketball game,” he said. “Believe me, we will not change.

“The drama of the game will be on the staff. But I don’t have many Kentucky players on my team. They don’t know all that stuff. I’ll tell them to get off the message boards, don’t worry about the Twitter and the Facebook. Don’t buy into it.”

He noted that Kentucky will be returning to the city where it lost its last game, dropping a seven-point game to Vanderbilt on March 11 in the title game of the SEC tournament.

“We’re going to New Orleans — we just left New Orleans — now we’re going back to New Orleans to play a basketball game,” he said. “Forget about this tournament. Let’s just go be as good as we can be as a team.

“If that’s not good enough, the season ends there. But let’s just worry about us. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to change.”

The message seems to be getting across. Asked if the fact it was Louisville the Wildcats were playing added anything or if they just looked at the Cardinals as their next opponent, freshman forward Anthony Davis didn’t hesitate.

“We think of it as Kentucky against the next team,” Davis said.

NOTES, QUOTES

-With its next opponent Louisville, Kentucky could be playing as many as three rematches from the regular season if the Wildcats make it to the national championship game. They already have a regional semifinal win over Indiana, which handed them their only defeat of the regular season Kentucky beat Louisville 69-62 on Dec. 31.

If the Wildcats beat the Cardinals again, they could be facing Kansas in the title game. Back on Nov. 15, Kentucky beat the Jayhawks 75-65 in Madison Square Garden. Of course, the Jayhawks will have to beat Ohio State in the national semifinals to get to the title game.

Kentucky didn’t play Ohio State, this year’s other Final Four entrant, this season, but did beat the Buckeyes 62-60 in last year’s East Regional semifinal.

-The Wildcats will be making their 15th Final Four appearance when they take on Louisville in a national semifinal in New Orleans. The longest they have gone without reaching the Final Four was a 13-year span from their 1998 title to last year, when they lost to Connecticut in a semifinal game.

QUOTE TO NOTE

“The knee is doing fine. I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, and it started hurting real bad. But I knew my team needed me to play. I wasn’t going to sit out, especially with a trip to the Final Four.” — Freshman F Anthony Davis, on the knee he hurt in the second half of the win over Baylor.