By DANIEL SUDDEATH
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
My heart will be heavy if the Wildcats fall in Indianapolis Friday night, but when it comes to who needs it the most, there’s no question that Louisville has more to lose in the latest edition of the Battle of the Bluegrass.
John Calipari is 5-1 against Rick Pitino and the Cardinals since taking the Kentucky coaching job. He’s beaten Louisville in Rupp Arena, he’s defeated the Cardinals in the YUM! Center, and he’s bested L1C4 on a neutral site during that span.
Aside from a three-point home victory in 2012 over an unranked Kentucky squad, Pitino has had little luck in knocking off the Cardinals biggest rival since Calipari arrived in Lexington.
Sure, Louisville is the defending champion, but it doesn’t take much more than a little ribbing of most Cards fans to unveil that UK is still seen as the dominant force in college basketball. Louisville is certainly near the top of that hierarchy, but it’s going to take beating big brother on the biggest of stages consistently to wrestle that title away from the Wildcats.
A victory over UK on Friday night would go a long way toward curbing Kentucky’s dominance over Louisville in recent years.
The contest will also have a substantial effect on the legacy of not just Pitino, but of Russ Smith, who has fallen to the Wildcats in four of five attempts during his career.
Smith has had his moments against the Wildcats — and his lane splitting, gravity defying jam over Julius Randle in December was the best dunk in college basketball this season — but the record shows UK has dominated the heads up matchup during his career.
And while Kentucky certainly has had more talent — at least on paper — over the past five seasons than Louisville, Friday’s game is more of a toss up than when the teams met in the 2012 Final Four.
If the Cards lose this game, Pitino drops to 1-6 against Calipari-coached UK squads, and with the class Kentucky has coming in next year, the future doesn’t look too bright for Louisville in terms of turning the rivalry tide.
While Louisville — a team that was picked by many to win the national championship at the onset of the Big Dance — may have more to lose than Kentucky, the Wildcats and Calipari certainly have a lot to prove as well.
As a lightning rod for controversy, Calipari will always have his detractors, and all the wins in the world won’t change the opinions of some about him.
After all the doubting and second guessing, Calipari’s team has endured this season due to its lackluster play at times, he can further prove he’s an elite coach by continuing to advance in the tournament.
He can show that’s he capable of doing what the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self haven’t been able to do — win with freshmen and sophomores.
Calipari can also further prove that he has Pitino’s number, and that the 2012 championship was no fluke.
Calipari has been successful against Pitino because his teams have largely been adept at breaking Louisville’s full court press.
It doesn’t take an expert to realize that turnovers and how UK deals with the press will again be a huge factor when the teams play Friday night.
If Kentucky is proficient at breaking the press, they are bigger, longer and more skilled than Louisville at arguably every position. It could be hard for the Cards to knock off the Wildcats without forcing an abundance of turnovers.
Kentucky will also need to knock down some perimeter shots to help the flow of the Wildcat offense.
If UK handles the pressure and shoots around 45 percent from the field, the Wildcats will dance on to the next round.
I’m going with Kentucky 72, Louisville 65.