Watching top-seeded Louisville adds to Kentucky’s misery

The Associated PressMarch 21, 2013 

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Without even trying, Louisville is adding to Kentucky’s misery.

While the defending national champions were left to clean out their lockers after being stunned in the first round of the NIT — yes, the NIT — the Cardinals rolled into Rupp Arena on Wednesday for the NCAA tournament.

As the overall No. 1 seed, no less.

“You know how last year they said they hoped we’d win after they lost? UK fans don’t hope they win,” Kentucky fan Roby Thompson said, glumly, as he watched the Cardinals practice. “I don’t even hope they have a good practice today, to tell you the truth.”

The irony isn’t lost on anyone.

A year after the bitter Louisville-Kentucky rivalry took center stage at the Final Four, the Cardinals (29-5) begin their quest for a title in enemy territory today. They face North Carolina A&T in the Midwest Region.

“Personally, I’m just happy not to play Kentucky here because I haven’t had (any) great success playing against Kentucky at Kentucky,” Seattle native Peyton Siva said. “It feels good to have the No. 1 overall seed, and to play in a closer location so our fans get a chance to watch us. We look forward to going out there and playing as hard as we would on any other court.

“We can play at the YMCA,” Siva said, “and I guarantee you coach Pitino will still have us pressing full court.”

The rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville is college basketball’s equivalent of a civil war. Only 70 miles separate the schools, but they may as well be worlds apart for their pedigrees and locales. Kentucky is the winningest in NCAA history, and its eight national titles are second only to UCLA. Even with two national titles, Louisville won’t be mistaken for a true hoops blue blood.

Kentucky’s campus is in the picturesque hill country, while Louisville sprawls across several blocks downtown.

Oh, basketball purists may claim Duke-North Carolina is more intense and has a far richer history. But it didn’t take government intervention to get the Tar Heels and Blue Devils to schedule each other, as it did with Louisville and Kentucky. Think Yankees-Red Sox on the hardwood, and that’s more like it.

As if it needed any more fuel, the rivalry grew more heated last season with the rumble in the Final Four. As everyone in the state knows, Kentucky won and then went on to win the national title, giving Big Blue carte blanche to gloat over its neighbors for the next year.

But Louisville is now exacting its revenge.

Young and undisciplined, Kentucky struggled all season. The Wildcats dropped six of their last 10 games. None was more shocking than Wednesday night’s loss at Robert Morris in the NIT.

Louisville, meanwhile, has recovered from its midseason blip and comes into the tournament as one of the hottest teams. The Cardinals have won 10 straight, and their 78-61 thrashing of Syracuse in the Big East tournament finale was so impressive the NCAA selection committee made Louisville the top No. 1 seed, ahead of Indiana, Gonzaga and Kansas.

The Cardinals were greeted with cheers when they appeared for Wednesday’s open practice, and heard nary a boo. Granted, most of the fans wore red, but at least one Kentucky fan applauded when they took the court.

“I just don’t have the personality to revel in anybody else’s failure,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who counts as somewhat of an expert on the rivalry after his eight years — and one title — at Kentucky. “They won a championship last year. They had one of the best teams we’ve gone against. So they’re rebuilding, and to me it’s not about them failing and us moving on.”

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