After a couple of days of exhilaration and incredulity, reality is setting in.
If one is honest, the odds of the University of Louisville winning another national championship in the next week are outweighed only by the odds UofL has already overcome in reaching the Final Four.
Louisville has had to continue grinding games out, plodding along without a consistent offense in which some players seem to disappear for stretches, forcing an over reliance on a foul-prone defense, having to make desperate comebacks just to be here.
Anything less than a win over Louisville will be an abysmal failure, as far as UK fans are concerned. Calipari has to win, losing is not an option.
The University of Kentucky, meanwhile, is playing at another level, executing almost flawlessly, never being seriously challenged, winning by 14 points per game. Playing with three, maybe four or five, NBA draft picks, making everything look easy, cake walking to the semifinals.
As difficult as it is for U of L fans, especially this one, to acknowledge, this is an intimidating Kentucky team. Extraordinarily gifted, strong and tireless at every position, UK appears to have so many of the tools that Louisville is missing. Including, in fact, at least one near-certain UofL recruit.
UK is coached by an individual in John Calipari who expends a lot of negative energy berating Rick PItino and the Louisville basketball program, the public face of a fan base that would wipe U of L off the basketball map if that were possible. This game is personal for Calipari. He will pull out all the stops to ensure his team is at a peak motivational level against a coach and program he abhors.
Calipari also is cognizant that the same fan base will question his abilities if he disappoints, especially if his team fails to defeat Louisville. No one has ever accused UK fans of being reasonable, they expect to win the national title this season. Anything less will be an abysmal failure, as far as they are concerned. Calipari has to win, the title is in the bag, losing is not an option.
Pitino, on the other hand, has an entirely different kind of challenge, his team having exceeded expectations. He has told his players not to be satisfied with just having made the Final Four, that their goal should be to win the national championship. A lot of teams have made surprising runs in the NCAA tournament only to be swept aside as litter on the big stage.
If Louisville were playing anyone but Kentucky in that first game Saturday, there might be reason for concern. There’s no one Pitino loves to defeat more than Calipari, but he hasn’t done that in three seasons. No team his charges would rather beat than a Kentucky team that stands in the way of a third national championship. Two more wins would do it, providing more than enough motivation for a team that thrives on doing the impossible.
Howard Fineman, a former Courier-Journal columnist, has a must read on the rivalry at the Huffington Post: Kentucky vs. Louisville: Basketball Armageddon[/stextbox]