Restaurateurs raise steaks, promote interesting matchups

For years, the rivalry between UK and the University of Louisville produced an intense “Battle for the Bluegrass” in the realm of men’s college basketball. 

But when underdog Northern Kentucky University stepped into the madness of the NCAA Tournament, and were subsequently pitted against No. 2 seed UK, basketball fans around the country upped the ante. 

Restaurateur Jeff Ruby promised 15,000 NKU students a free steak dinner if their team survived the first round of the tournament against UK. 

The Bluegrass Hospitality Group, the restaurant group that owns Malone’s steakhouses, followed suit by promising UK students and faculty a free steak dinner if UK wins the NCAA Tournament title.

After Ruby’s offer, the BHG decided to “raise the steaks” for their own local team.

NKU was a newcomer to the tournament this year. Friday’s game against UK was the team’s first tournament game against a No. 6-ranked team.

The game resulted in a close match between the Norse and the Cats, with a final score of 79-70.

In a news release, BHG co-founder Bruce Drake said he wanted to show the same support for his local team as Ruby did for NKU.

“After hearing the offer to support their local team, it occurred to us that Lexington’s hometown steakhouse should step up to the plate with a steak for every UK student and faculty member, if the Cats win the title,” Drake said in the news release.

UK’s win against NKU Friday may have ended NKU students’ hope for a steak dinner, but it put UK students and faculty one step closer to theirs. After moving past its bluegrass opponent, UK faced another team with a personal connection to the Cats: No. 10 seed Wichita State.

In 2014, No. 8 seed UK ended No. 1 seed Wichita State’s undefeated season. This year, the roles were nearly reversed, and though the Shockers kept the game close, UK pulled out the win, 65-62.

The Cats will continue their journey to the title – and the steak dinner – against the winner of No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 6 seed Cincinatti on Thursday. Nearly every possible opponent standing between UK and the national title has some history with the Cats, from UNC, beaten by UK in December, to Kansas, who beat UK in January, to long-time rival Duke.

After No. 2 seed Louisville, another UK rival, lost to Michigan Sunday, UK is the sole remaining representative of the bluegrass in the NCAA tournament.