Maybe they’ve been studying too much. Perhaps their televisions don’t work.
Whatever the case is, Anthony Davis and Doron Lamb say they haven’t spent one second watching Louisville this year. The first they will see of the Cardinals, they say, will be Friday’s film session, just a day before the annual showdown with Kentucky’s archrival (Saturday at noon on CBS at Rupp Arena).
“I’ve never seen them play,” Davis said. “I haven’t even watched Louisville play at all this year. We never had a chance to watch them play. We always had a game or practice or whatever the case may be.”
No worries, though, Davis says he understands the importance of the rivalry, at least from the fans’ perspective.
“They really hate each other,” Davis said. “I got a lot of tweets about ‘Beat Louisville, they suck’ and everything about that. We’re guessing it’s a big deal for (the fans).”
Lose and it’s Armageddon for the fans. For the coaches and the players, they say it’s “just another game.”
“I don’t know how much they’re playing up this game,” John Calipari said. “We’re not talking about it that much. Maybe they are on the Internet – which I am not – seeing what’s being said, (but) we’re worried about us. Let’s just play the best we can play, and if that’s not good enough – say they come in and make 15 3s and the game becomes physical, we’re not able to play that way and they beat us – great. We’ll learn, we’ll move on. We got 16 league games and another nonconference game to get going. It’s the next game. Now, if you win it, it becomes a huge game. But truly, it’s the next game.”
Head coach: Rick Pitino (257-97 at Louisville)
Conference: Big East
Player to watch: Peyton Siva (9.5 points, 6.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds)
Series history: UK leads 28-14
Last meeting: UK won 78-63 last season
Whether or not that’s truly the case in the heads of the players and coaches, we may never know, or at least until after the game is over. But Coach Cal’s players are echoing the same mentality.
“We don’t want to treat it as if it’s a huge game or live-or-die game,” Miller said. “We treat it as if it were any other game.”
Downplaying a rivalry game is certainly nothing new. The “just another game” approach is as old as the rivalries they accompany.
But why do teams – and the Wildcats in this case – not give into hoopla and emotions of the game until the tipoff? Senior Darius Miller said they’d lose focus if they approached it any other way.
“We can’t let our emotions get the best of us,” Miller said. “We can’t allow for stupid mistakes or try to do too much. We have to come out and play the same way we always play. That will provide us with the best opportunity to win.”
Even if they’ve only been in Kentucky a few months, the freshmen receive all the exposure they need to understand the importance of the game. The fans are in the ears every day about it.
“I hear it every day,” sophomore Doron Lamb said.
And still, Lamb said the freshmen won’t fully grasp the emotions of the rivalry until the game gets underway. Lamb admits he didn’t know it was a big game last year until he went through it.
“I told them it will be a great game, a physical game, a real hyped game,” Lamb said. “They’ve just got to play their game and keep playing how they’ve been playing so far and they’ll be fine.”
Both teams will enter the game with a 12-1 record after Louisville dropped its first game of the season Wednesday night, a 71-68 loss to No. 12 Georgetown. The matchup of the third-ranked Wildcats and the fourth-ranked Cardinals will mark the highest combined ranked rankings of the two teams in the history of the rivalry, which dates back to 1913. UK owns a 28-14 advantage in the series, including a 2-0 mark under Coach Cal.
But outside of those stakes, Calipari said there’s nothing personal between the players. Most of them didn’t grow up in the state of Kentucky and didn’t have a feel for the intensity of the game until they entered college.
“This is not ever, from my side, going to be a Cincinnati-Xavier,” Calipari said. “That won’t come from us. Our team does not feel any hatred or animosity toward their players. We do not. We do not talk that way or play that way. It will be a terrific basketball game of teams going at each other with all the bells and whistles.”
The lack of animosity goes for the head coaches of both teams as well, Calipari says. Coach Cal and Rick Pitino were painted as rivals before Calipari took the job at Kentucky, and the perceived friction between the two has only intensified as quotes and comments have been shared through newspapers and TV reports.
“We don’t send Christmas cards, but I mean, we’re cordial to each other,” Calipari said. “He coaches there and I coach here.”
There’s a notion that the two coaches don’t get along because they’re so much alike. Coach Cal didn’t disagree that there are certainly a lot of similarities between the two.
“We’ve both taken three teams to the Final Four, we both got fired in the NBA and we’re Italians with big noses,” Calipari said. “I guess we are alike. … “We’re just right on top of each other, but I respect what he’s done, respect his program, respect their city and their school.”
As for the actual game, Calipari expects it to be a physical one.
“It will be similar to those (other high-profile) games,” Calipari said. “You have to be strong with the ball, protect yourself and get open. You can’t be afraid of body-to-body contact. You’re going to have to finish around the goal the same way. It’s all good for us … This is a great experience for us in another crazy environment.”
Louisville’s style under Pitino has been to press, push the tempo and shoot 3s. While the Cats expect the Cards to show the press at times, Calipari also expects Pitino to throw a little zone their way.
Calipari said it will be a good barometer for UK’s toughness.
“The M.O. is, don’t shoot quickly to get (us) running,” Calipari said. “Get into the shot clock a little bit. You’ve got to beat (us) shooting 3s, so get into the lane and kick it out. Foul. Ball fake, ball fake, ball fake. Throw your body in there and hope there’s a foul called. Get to the foul line. And then the second thing is, be really physical.
“That’s the M.O. We all know it. You know it. The people, the fans know it. Everybody knows it. So you get in there and you grab and you hold. On a foul, you’ll push in the back because the guy’s not boxing out, so give him a little push and shove. It’s all stuff we have to feel so that we can take that next stride up.”
It will be a particularly important game for UK freshman guard Marquis Teague. No matter what type of defense Pitino decides to go with, one can surmise he’ll throw a lot of pressure at the first-year guard.
Teague has played pretty well since his early season struggles, but he’s committed 14 turnovers over his last three contests. He’ll likely be matched up with Louisville point guard Peyton Siva, who Calipari calls an “NBA player” and “difference maker for their team.”
“Hopefully (he handles it) better than he handled Indiana the beginning of the game,” Calipari said.