The heat is back in the Commonwealth’s rivalry

If three technical fouls are called 45 seconds into any basketball game, you know those teams don’t like each other.

With the general revival in UK basketball buzz thanks to John Calipari’s hiring, the UK-Louisville rivalry is again one of the nation’s most intense.

This side of a bench-clearing brawl, this year’s episode may have been the series’ most physical, at least in recent memory. No fists were thrown — although DeMarcus Cousins went after Jared Swopshire with a mean forearm “going after a loose ball,” he said — but this year’s Dream Game packed quite a bit of heat.

“There were things grabbing, kicking, grabbing, punching, eyeball dragging, fish hooks, nose drags,” Calipari said. “This game had everything.”

All it took was one side adding a new coach that the other coach already didn’t like, both coaches facing summer scandals to ignite the relentless opposing fans, the nation’s best player going up against a famously guard-unfriendly defense … and anything else the fans on either side could latch onto.

You know, that’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 UK’s five starters left the pre-game huddle to check in at the scorer’s table, Calipari apparently yelled to get each player’s attention.

Cal’s famously loud scream didn’t turn a single head from 10 feet away.

The decibel level didn’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.

“Freshman year, I recall that it wasn’t nearly as loud as it was this year,” said Patrick Patterson, who scored six points in a 14-point UK loss at Rupp to Louisville his freshman year. “A 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.”

Turns out, this year’s game didn’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. That’s 5.3 percent.

While the Cardinals were shooting a single-digit percentage from the field, UK didn’t build its lead any higher than 13 points. The Cats weren’t shooting much better (33.3 percent at halftime) and couldn’t separate because of it.

And UK’s separating factor all year, Wall, was struggling.

If it weren’t for Cousins’ 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 — and one so poorly played by both teams — I’m surprised none of the players involved went Ron Artest.

“I wasn’t expecting that much, but I was expecting it to be physical,” Cousins said. “I guess you could say we got a little carried away at the beginning, but we were just there to play basketball.”

Said Calipari: “It was heated, but look. UMass and Temple had metal detectors when we went in that building.” (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 year’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 game’s intensity isn’t going anywhere.

James Pennington is a journalism senior. E-mail jpennington@kykernel.com.

The guys calling the game for CBS said the Refs were some of the best and had called Final Fours and etc. They started out like they were going to control the game, but shortly let it get out of control with the trash talking, hip checking, hand checking. L’ville thought they would shake our freshman with their junk but it didn’t work. Our fans showed a lot more class to Slick Rick than the IU fans did to Coach Cal and I’m very proud of them. This team is looking better every game and the guys comming off the bench are doing a great job. This really makes makes up for the last years when we were down. “Go Big Blue”