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With the general revival in UK basketball buzz thanks to John Calipariâ€™s hiring, the UK-Louisville rivalry is again one of the nationâ€™s most intense.
This side of a bench-clearing brawl, this yearâ€™s episode may have been the seriesâ€™ most physical, at least in recent memory. No fists were thrown â€” although DeMarcus Cousins went after Jared Swopshire with a mean forearm â€œgoing after a loose ball,â€ he said â€” but this yearâ€™s Dream Game packed quite a bit of heat.
â€œThere were things grabbing, kicking, grabbing, punching, eyeball dragging, fish hooks, nose drags,â€ Calipari said. â€œThis game had everything.â€
All it took was one side adding a new coach that the other coach already didnâ€™t like, both coaches facing summer scandals to ignite the relentless opposing fans, the nationâ€™s best player going up against a famously guard-unfriendly defense â€¦ and anything else the fans on either side could latch onto.
You know, thatâ€™s all.
Early, it looked like it may have played out into an epic because of the emotion and intensity, both on the floor and in the stands. Rupp Arena hosted more fans than it ever has before (24,479), and it may have been louder than ever. As each of UKâ€™s five starters left the pre-game huddle to check in at the scorerâ€™s table, Calipari apparently yelled to get each playerâ€™s attention.
Calâ€™s famously loud scream didnâ€™t turn a single head from 10 feet away.
The decibel level didnâ€™t budge those first few minutes. Even during timeouts, and even while the referees conferred to assess the triple-technical play, the fans kept it up.
Even since the last time this game was played in Rupp, a lot has changed around this rivalry.
â€œFreshman year, I recall that it wasnâ€™t nearly as loud as it was this year,â€ said Patrick Patterson, who scored six points in a 14-point UK loss at Rupp to Louisville his freshman year. â€œA lot more fans going crazy, I saw a lot more signs. There was just a lot more intensity and a lot more thrill from the fans. The fans seemed to be a lot more into the game.â€
Turns out, this yearâ€™s game didnâ€™t live up to the hype it set up for itself early on. After both sides cooled off following the three technicals, the game actually became quite forgettable. Louisville missed 18 of its first 19 shots from the field. Thatâ€™s 5.3 percent.
While the Cardinals were shooting a single-digit percentage from the field, UK didnâ€™t build its lead any higher than 13 points. The Cats werenâ€™t shooting much better (33.3 percent at halftime) and couldnâ€™t separate because of it.
And UKâ€™s separating factor all year, Wall, was struggling.
If it werenâ€™t for Cousinsâ€™ 18-point, 18-rebound performance (remember, many thought he should have been ejected 45 seconds after tip-off), UK may have been losing early on to a team shooting 5 percent.
In such an emotional game â€” and one so poorly played by both teams â€” Iâ€™m surprised none of the players involved went Ron Artest.
â€œI wasnâ€™t expecting that much, but I was expecting it to be physical,â€ Cousins said. â€œI guess you could say we got a little carried away at the beginning, but we were just there to play basketball.â€
Said Calipari: â€œIt was heated, but look. UMass and Temple had metal detectors when we went in that building.â€ (Also, Temple coach John Cheney once charged the lectern during a Calipari post-game press conference and emphatically threatened to kick his you-know-what.)
Neither Pitino nor Calipari threatened each other (at least publicly) after the game, and none of the parties involved were screened for weapons as they entered the court.
For the sane, though, this yearâ€™s meeting between these rivals was as good as ever.
Until the sun rises in the west or the Cubs win the World Series, this gameâ€™s intensity isnâ€™t going anywhere.
James Pennington is a journalism senior. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.