Russ Smith undoubtedly had the play of the game. He hit a monster dunk in the face of Kentucky’s prized freshman Julius Randle. Even Wildcats fans were impressed with the play. Russ Smith finished with 19 points but none of the other 17 points were as spectacular as this dunk. It brought the crowd to it’s feet and added excitement to one of the most heated rivalries in college basketball.
The Louisville Cardinals are the defending National Champions. That have won 3 National Championships in school history. They have been in 10 Final Fours. They have over 1700 wins in school history. There is no denying that the Cards are one of the best programs in college basketball. However, they are second fiddle in their own state. Little Brother if you will. The reason? The Kentucky Wildcats have 8 national championships, 15 Final Fours, the most all time wins in college basketball history (2100+) and the highest all time winning percentage.
To say this is a major rivalry, especially within the state of Kentucky, would be an understatement. ESPN would have you believe that college basketball rivalries begin and end with Duke vs. North Carolina but this rivalry is just as important if not more so. North Carolina has the NFL, NHL and NBA and also Wake Forest and NC State. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby and Louisville vs. Kentucky. Every single person in the state has a rooting interest. Not that the rivalry needed any extra fire added but Louisville is coached by FORMER Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino. Pitino was a beloved savior to the Kentucky Wildcats. He rescued them from probation and the brink of the death penalty. He damn near won the national championship with a bunch of Kentucky natives that became known as The Unforgettables after they lost in the Elite Eight on a buzzer beater by Christian Laettner in what is still called to this day the Greatest Game in College Basketball History. He eventually did win that National Championship and left a loaded roster that Tubby Smith was able to win another national title with. All of that has been forgotten by 95% of Big Blue Nation after he became the Louisville Cardinals coach. He has since won the national title with Louisville and reestablished them as a national power which makes his “treason” all the worse. Kentucky fans may have forgiven him if he went to Louisville and failed or put them on probation. After Louisville hired Rick Pitino, Kentucky eventually threw a million more gallons of gasoline on the fire by hiring Rick Pitino’s biggest personal rival, John Calipari as coach. They had started as friends. Pitino helped Calipari get the head coaching job at UMass. UMass and UK butted heads in the Final Four the year that Pitino won the national title at Kentucky. Calipari then went on to coach at Memphis that was the #2 rival of Louisville during Pitino’s tenure. The rivalry was intense between the two coaches and that has only escalated now that Calipari is at UK. This blood feud has it all.
This year was a huge game for both teams. Kentucky is coming off an embarrassing season that ended in a 1st round loss in the NIT to Robert Morris. Louisville is the defending national champions. Russ Smith has become a folk legend in U of L history for all the big and crazy shots he’s made. UK had lost to all the ranked teams that they had played so far this season. People were beginning to question this year’s team and wondering if it was going to be another Freshman Flop. Louisville is a serious contender to win back to back national titles which is something that Kentucky hasn’t done since 1948 and 1949. If Kentucky fans thought Louisville had gotten awfully mouthy this past year, imagine what it would be like if Louisville had won this game. Even after losing, imagine what it would be if they do go on to win another title this season. It’s hard to say that the winningest team in college basketball history desperately needed a victory but the Wildcats FANS desperately needed this one. Louisville fans are already falling back on the “we are the defending champions…we are more concerned with winning another title” defense to get through the day. Thanks to Julius Randle’s huge 1st half (missed basically the entire second half with cramps) and then Aaron & Andrew Harrison and James Young, Kentucky came out victorious 73-66 and maintains their title of Kings of the Bluegrass.