An Epic Battle. Dream Game Part 2. Basketball Armageddon. Civil War.
Whatever you call it, this Saturday’s Final Four match-up between Kentucky and Louisville will be one for the history books. It’s the type of rivalry reunion that has turned nonsports fans into fanatics and diehards into, well, dieharders.
At 6:09 p.m. on Saturday, March 31, the top seeded Wildcats and No. 4 seed Cardinals will tip-off inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1984 Sweet Sixteen, which Kentucky won 72-67.
But, just one year earlier – in 1983 – Louisville came out victorious. During the Elite Eight, in “The Dream Game,” the Cards beat the Cats in an overtime victory, 80-68.
“It was crazy,” said Robbie Valentine, a member of the ’83 Louisville team, as well as the 1986 national championship team. “It was an overtime victory and we knew the world was watching as they will be on Saturday.”
As if the “Dream Game” of 1983 could have been more intense, the national stage of the Final Four brings a whole new level of madness to the NCAA tournament.
“There’s certainly the most on the line than there ever has been,” said Lachlan McLean, host of “SportsTalk84” on WHAS-AM radio. “It’s going to force the nation to acknowledge just how special this rivalry is. There are more prominent football rivalries … (but) this basketball-based rivalry is just as heated and just as passionate. It will be an eye opener for the nation.”
That heated rivalry began the moment UofL first faced UK on February 15, 1913, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the inaugural competition 34-10 and has gone on to achieve a 29-14 all-time record against Louisville and seven NCAA championships to Louisville’s two.
But, that hasn’t kept the Cardinal faithful from holding out hope that Louisville will prevail on Saturday for a chance to play the winner of Kansas-Ohio State in the national championship on Monday, April 2.
“My heart is with the University of Louisville Cards,” said Emily Carroll, a former Louisville resident. “The decision is where to watch and who to watch with.”
Finding and securing the perfect locale for viewing the game is a top priority for fans this weekend. Having both UK and UofL in the tournament has created an immense boom in business at sports bars around town. So immense, in fact, that places like Diamonds Pub and Billiards in the Highlands are charging patrons to reserve seats at the venue, which some fans are happy to oblige.
The chaos won’t cease beyond the border of the Bluegrass, though. Bourbon Street in New Orleans is expected to see action as crazy – or more? – than the mayhem witnessed during Mardi Gras.
“I would be shocked if there’s not chaos somewhere especially when the libations start flowing in the French Quarter,” McLean said. “There’s going to be fights; there’s no question about that. I just hope people don’t think that’s (how) the majority of the fan base (is).”
For some, the rivalry is super serious. But for others, it’s a chance for some good-natured ribbing.
To help “take the sting” out of what he says will be a tough loss for UK this Saturday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer presented a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon to Lexington Mayor Jim Gray at a regular meeting of the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement board. Gray, in turn, presented Fischer with a 6-pack of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.
Fischer and Gray also wagered on the outcome of the game: If Kentucky should win, Fischer will remain in New Orleans for the championship game and wear blue in support of the Wildcats. If Louisville prevails, Gray will stick around for the title game and wear red.
While the two mayors have inserted humor into the raucous rivalry, some are predicting reactions closer to anarchy once the victor is crowned in the Final Four.
Regardless of who comes out on top, a guaranteed trip to the final game for one Kentucky team is a victory for the entire Commonwealth as a reigning basketball state – isn’t it?
“I think that if we as fans can be professional and can treat this in a way that it’s on a national stand, we can all get something great out of this,” Valentine said. “Win or lose, one of the two teams is going to the championship. Win or lose we want one of these two teams to win the championship.”
UK, UofL fans weigh in
“I am a diehard Kentucky fan! Bleed blue and support those boys all the way! I’m so proud of their season. I just hope they play just as hard as they have been on Saturday in ‘Blue Orleans.’ Having two Kentucky teams in the final four says a lot for our state. I’m proud to be from Kentucky.”
– Shannon Cox
“This match-up is crazy! I am so excited and nervous about the game on Saturday! If I didn’t have school I would be down in New Orleans. Being a UL fan, of course I hope they win! It is awesome to see two Kentucky teams make it to the Final Four. I would only cheer for UL, but if UK wins, they deserve it for all the hard work and talent they have this year.”
– Emily Lyons
“This Final Four Match is absolutely GREAT for the state of Kentucky. I am a proud alumni of the University of Kentucky and an avid UK fan who bleeds blue. However, I used to wear a little red UL cheerleader outfit when I was younger going to games with my dad. So, of course I want my CATS to win, but no matter what I am going to be proud of the outcome. What an accomplishment for the state of Kentucky!”
– Christina Dages
“This match up is huge for the state of Kentucky. If you look at this from a numbers stand point you see how big it is. Out of the four best teams in the nation, two hail from Kentucky. For me as a fan, it’s a chance to put some closure to the ‘who’s better argument’ – at least for a day.”
– Ryan Ford
“This will be the biggest sporting event ever for the state of Kentucky. The week leading up to the game on Saturday will be off the charts fun. If you are not a basketball fan, I suggest you leave town now! Just hope the losing fans will still be talking to the Cats fans after the game is over!”
– Lynn Anderson Reid
“This is bigger than the Superbowl and the Kentucky Derby for the residents of Kentucky. Our rivalry is now on the national stage. For me this means a chance at revenge and a chance to put all my UK cheering friends in their place. Cardinals will prevail.”
– Jose Jose Miguel
“Personally, I’m a Cards fan, but I have no problem cheering for UK if we don’t win. Granted, I know they’re our rivals, but if you think about it, this is a victory for the WHOLE state of Kentucky. Whether it’s UofL or UK, the state of Kentucky has a 50-50 chance of bringing home a championship! That’s pretty good odds. I was born & raised in Kentucky. Even though I want UofL to win, I’ll still cheer on my home state.”
– Mikeal Pinkard
“This is the culmination of everything that it means to be a college basketball fan in the bluegrass, its the culmination of everything for me – an avid UK fan. I used to dream about such a matchup when I was a kid. We wont see this again in another 35 years. This game will once and for all secure our great state of Kentucky, as THE place for college basketball in the country. We have perfected it and will soon own it. Get ready for something that mankind has never witnessed before.”
– Kelly Kramer