Why Tom Jurich keeps Kentucky on Louisville’s schedule despite the animosity

For whatever reason, Tom Jurich would never seriously consider dropping Kentucky off a University of Louisville schedule in any sport. Never under his watch.

Contrary to some of us who would rather do without all the animosity, Jurich apparently considers UK as indispensable to the lineup of opponents. Probably because the games between the teams are always among the best attended, attract maximum media exposure, and are fiercely contested.

Many Louisville fans can still remember the days when Kentucky refused to play UofL in the major sports. As long as the Wildcats didn’t have to play Louisville, they could claim they were far superior and there was no way to challenge that notion. UK was in the mighty SEC and UofL was either an independent or making its way in and out of a half dozen secondary conferences. 

UofL actually needed UK on the schedule in those days, seeking validity, wanting to earn the respect of the Lexington rival. When the teams finally did begin playing each other in basketball and football, and Louisville began to win many of those games, it soon became apparent that gaining the respect of UK fans was not possible.

The basketball series, of course, is still considered the most heated in the rivalry. This despite the fact that UK has won eight of the last nine games, including four straight over the Cardinals. John Calipari and his NBA prep factory owning Rick Pitino over the past decade.  Games between UofL and UK women are equally contentious, with Louisville’s Jeff Walz finally breaking a six-year losing streak to Matthew Mitchell this season.

No less intense in football, in which UofL has won five of the last six games. Wildcat fans are still reveling in their team’s 41-38 upset of 11th-ranked Louisville in the final regular season game. That win more important to Kentucky than making a bowl game for the first time in six years.

The baseball stadiums in both Louisville and Lexington are always packed for the UofL-UK games, always tightly contested, integral to the success of both teams. Louisville has owned the series in recent years, winning the last six games between the two teams.

UK fans will never acknowledge that UofL is anywhere close to being on the same level in terms of prestige or competitiveness — no matter how many times UofL defeats them or how many national championships or final fours the Cardinals claim. For that matter, neither will UofL ever give UK fans the respect they think they deserve. 

Kentucky fans consider Louisville as a crime-infested urban area. Many of them have never visited the state’s largest and most prosperous city. A large segment of Louisville fans, on the other hand, consider Kentucky a rural and backward state, ranked near the bottom in many national categories, and a state that relies heavily on Louisville tax dollars to stay afloat.

For these and many other reasons, the rivalry is among the most bitter rivalries in college sports. Those who describe it as a friendly rivalry are, as one friend described them, “art majors,” completely out of touch with the real world.

The rivalry is counterproductive in many ways, often dividing families, friendships, business relationships, and communities. Not good for the state either, creating very real barriers to any real significant cooperation between the state’s two largest educational institutions.

Despite all these negative factors, the rivalry will go on, making life miserable for fans of the losing school, creating even more levels of resentment and animosity. UK and UofL fans live to hate each other.

Tom Jurich knows that will probably never change. Kentucky fans consider Louisville a threat, and that equals respect, whether they ever admit it or not. That’s why UK is staying on the schedule.

Pitino right person to message Kentucky basketball fans

Rick Pitino may or may not have shown the middle finger to some fans in Lexington following the Louisville vs. Kentucky basketball game. The quality of the cell phone video is bad, making it impossible to verify anything.

The only thing for certain is that many UK fans want to believe it happened. So many of them have been obsessing about it on the radio talk shows the past couple of days. If that’s what they believe, there’s no changing their minds. They believe a lot of incredulous things about their program.

Rick Pitino knows UK fans well.
Rick Pitino knows UK fans well.

A spur of the moment impulse whatever it was, following a bitter defeat to a hated arch rival. Who knows what abuse some UK fan(s) may have directed toward Pitino as he headed for the locker room. There’s obviously still a lot of hate for the former Kentucky coach in Lexington.

Pitino was someone they admired, respected and idolized.  As effective as John Calipari has been at UK, one does not sense the same high levels of adoration or affection. The distinct impression is that he’s more of a hired gun than a beloved figure, with all the winking and nodding when his name is mentioned.

Many UK fans have never forgiven Pitino for leaving to take a job in the NBA. They hate him much more for taking the University of Louisville job. Doesn’t matter that John Calipari took UK’s recruiting to another level, they consider themselves the jilted lovers, the ones he left behind.

They trash him regularly, every chance they get, justified or otherwise, making up stuff if they have to, their collective attitude epitomized by Matt Jones of the Kentucky Sports Radio. Jones was quick to capitalize on the grainy video, tweeting about it within a couple of hours after the game. His followers unashamedly lap it up.

Some UofL fans are also hoping that Pitino actually did make an obscene gesture to the UK fan base. If so, the action would reflect the collective wish of many University of Louisville fans. Not that such a gesture would be a great display of civility or sportsmanship, but if any individual were justified in sending UK fans a message it would be Rick Pitino.

If some Kentucky fans want so badly to believe the worst, they may want to heed the message and follow it to their desired conclusion.

The Calipari whining, the Wesley ties and Pitino recruiting

Should be okay for University of Louisville fans to get out in public now, with the loss to Kentucky a couple of days in the rear view mirror. Not a fun rivalry.

The worst part about losing to UK in any sport is that Wildcats fans, a large segment of them anyway, are unable to give the University of Louisville credit for what it has achieved, even following a third national championship in 2013.

The less interaction UofL partisans have with UK fans the better in the days immediately following a game, whether the outcome was a win or a loss.

One need not look any farther than John Calipari, their head basketball coach, as a prime example. Rather than give the Cardinals’ defense credit during a halftime interview, the UK coach predictably alludes to the physical play. Sorry, coach, but UofL is never going to roll over for Kentucky.

Calipari is used to having calls go his way, especially at Rupp, and when they don’t, he gets that slack-jawed, whiny look on his face. That familiar expression of someone who looks guilty of something, knowing he’s gotten away with it, and making one wonder he’s done lately. Not one mention of the way UofL played, focusing exclusively on his own team in the post-game press conference.

Meanwhile, UofL Coach Rick Pitino is complimenting UK of having one of the best defensive teams he’s seen in 40 years of coaching, expressing admiration for Calipari’s ability to keep the Kentucky players happy with their limited playing time.

Pitino should know a good defense when he sees one, with defense being his major emphasis at UofL and offense almost an afterthought. The coach’s “offensively-challenged” basketball team desperately needs more attention, starting with the point guard play.

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Pitino said on his post-game radio show that “Louisville fans may not like it, but Kentucky has better players than we do.”

Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino

It was an unintended reminder from Pitino that Calipari has not only outcoached Pitino, winning six of the seven games between the two schools and has never lost a recruit to Pitino. UofL fans will never be happy with that equation.

Interesting that William Wesley, also known as World Wide Wes, again managed to find a front row seat, even at the KFC Yum! Center. The individual who has made most of Calipari’s success possible at UK, Memphis and, probably, at Massachusetts

Front row seats on the floor are not the best place to watch a basketball game, providing a poor perspective of the overall action. Those seats are generally for people who want to be seen, often having bigger interests than the outcome of a particular game.

Wesley is a mover and shaker, actually the kingpin, in the college basketball recruiting. As long as Calipari and Wesley remain on good terms, UK will have first pick of emerging high school talent. Small wonder the UofL roster includes a growing number of foreign-born players.

Still waiting for the next assist, Louisville bows to Kentucky

One assist in a game where assists are essential, a lack of focus on the fundamentals, 40 minutes of panic on offense, the University of Louisville basketball team unable to establish any momentum, apparently content to keep it close.

Too big an underdog not to play loose and aggressive, wanting and willing a win. That’s how rivalry games are supposed to be decided.

Kentucky winning 58-50 by virtue of nine assists, more than half of them to Tyler Ulis, unaffected by the racous atmosphere, sinking five of eight field goals, including two three-point daggers.

When and if UofL Coach Rick Pitino reviews the game film with his team, he may want to focus on the blue team, moving the ball around to find the open shooter. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing, find the open man. Against a team as tall as UK, move the ball, find a teammate.

Chris Jones was credited with the one assist, one that nobody remembers. Taking too much on himself as usual, wandering in among the trees, throwing up 12 blanks in 15 tries. Incapable of taking his team on his shoulders, but unable to concede leadership to Terry Rozier.

Rozier, not blameless for the lack of assists, possibly not making himself available often enough, finding the basket on five of 18 shots, four of four free-throw attempts. Like Jones, making too many contested shots, not looking for teammates.

Wayne Blackshear needed a game like this to show some progress but he wasn’t up to the task, still needing more time, running out of it. Making only two of nine field goal attempts, six of nine free throw attempts, including two misses at the end typical of his career thus far.

Montrezl Harrell just up against too many big people in the middle, keying on him, matching him step for step, still managing nine points and eight rebounds.

Shaquan Aaron probably should have seen more playing time, a player like Ulis unaffected by the environment, a pure shooter, the only pure shooter on this team, but we will never know whether he would have gotten the ball in a one-assist game. Good for one three-pointer on two shots.

Anas Mahmoud could have supplied the cool, unaffected attitude that seemed so lacking. All that development in the past two games apparently not for this opponent.

Three or four more assists may or may not have made a difference but it would have far better than next to none.