Cats-Cards Rivalry From The Players' Perspective

Mar 31, 2012

By the end of the night one basketball team from the Commonwealth will be going to the NCAA Championship Game, the other will be going home.  All this week, we've heard stories and anecdotes that illustrate the passion and hatred from both sides of the UK and U of L rivalry, but what are the players thinking as they head into this contest?  WUKY student reporter Adam Warner has their perspectives on the matchup.

The emotions are unparalleled.

The hype is unprecedented.

The rivalry is unmatched.

And now the wait is finally over.

The Cats and Cards square off tonight in the Final Four down in New Orleans for the first meeting between the two historic programs ever, in the NCAA  Tournament's semi-finals.

But with the thrill and animosity surrounding this battle in the bayou, rest assured, there can only be one winner.  

One team will continue its march in a quest for another championship, while the other will suffer agonizing and utter defeat.

The fiery passion within both fan bases has been evident this week including a highly publicized fight at a dialysis clinic.

One would think the hatred and bitter feelings would spill out on to the court. But according to Kentucky freshman Kyle Wiltjer, the rivalry is something that he’s not accustomed to.

“Yea I mean the fans, they grew up with Kentucky basketball. A lot of us aren’t even from Kentucky, so we don’t have this rivalry engrained in us. We’re just looking forward to it being a big game, and hopefully we can come out and play our game.”

Wiltjer is one of three Kentucky and Louisville players from the west coast. He and his teammate Terrence Jones are both from Portland Oregon, while Louisville point guard Peyton Siva comes from Seattle, Washington. Jones and Siva say that they’ve know each other since fourth grade; and get this, they’re actually good friends.

And according to Siva, Louisville guard Russ Smith and Kentucky guard Doron Lamb are real good friends. That talk every single day. The fans may be rivals, but the players are anything but, and that’s the mentality that Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague is taking in to this game.

“Yea we’re going to take it like that. That’s how we take every game. We don’t want to come in to any game overhyped, or just to anxious to play. We’ve got to take it just like the next game.”

That sentiment is shared even by native Kentuckians playing in this almost biblical battle. Especially Maysville’s own Darius Miller.

“Really it’s going to be the same as any other game that we’ve had this tournament. Really, they’re going to be a good team; a talented team, and we’ve got to prepare the way that we have been the whole season. We’ve been successful so far, so we’re just going to keep everything the same.”

It’s not hard to find the roots of such an embedded mentality. Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari has worked hard this season to get this players to focus just on the next game. Their business-like approach to the game, reflects his personality.   

“I’ll say this again. It does not matter if the school’s ten minutes from you or 1,000 miles. It really doesn’t matter now. Now for our fans; Louisville fans, Kentucky fans, oh my gosh! But the teams; they want to win the game because they want to advance. We want to win the game because we want to advance. And that’s you know, we’re prepared and their prepared.”

Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino is predicting mass hysteria across the commonwealth of his team pulls off the upset.

“I mean there will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us. There will. You’ve got to watch, they're going to have to put the fences up on bridges.”

But the players are what makes this game, and the fans of course give it that extra edge.

Both coaches have done their best to create a kind of bubble for their players, a safety net that draws the disconnect between player and fan.

Today, players will come together for their respective teams, and tip-off another version of the battle of the bluegrass. 

This one is more anticipated because it’s a chance for the players to live out their dreams.

It’s a chance for them to come together one last time. It’s a chance to make Big Blue History in the Big Easy.