The War on 64
By E.P. Bignon
In the Bluegrass it’s commonly referred to as the “War on 64”. The two schools are separated by only 70 miles down Interstate 64 and though they have met every year during the regular season since 1983 never has there been a match-up with so much on the line. After a 24 year layoff Kentucky & Louisville did meet up in the NCAA Tournament in 1983 with a Final Four birth on the line in what was called the original “Dream Game” that Louisville won in overtime. And then the very next year the two teams met in the Sweet 16 & Kentucky won by 5 points 72-67. But with a spot in the National Championship game on the line, there will be no love lost between the two fan bases. Households will be divided, co-workers won’t speak to each other and someone will go home very disappointed Saturday evening.
Adolph Rupp, Kentucky’s coach from 1930 – 1972 thought it was beneath them to play Louisville on a regular basis one reason why the two schools went so long without playing each other. Joe B Hall was an assistant to Rupp and took over the as head coach in 1972 and pretty much felt the same way. The stage was set for the two schools to play each other in the 1982 NCAA tournament, all Kentucky had to do was beat Middle Tennessee, the OVC Champion that year, in the opening round & then the Louisville/Kentucky match-up would be set. Someone forget to tell Middle Tennessee & they mysteriously went on to beat Kentucky 50-44. To this day some Louisville fans still think Joe B. threw that game to avoid playing the upstart Cards. Sooner or later these two would have to play each other & so it was the very next season the two would meet in Knoxville with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Finally Louisville would get their shot at mighty Kentucky and it would take overtime to decide it, an overtime that was dominated by Louisville, final score 80-68. Even though Louisville would lose to Houston in the national semi- finals a week later, the loss didn’t sting quite as bad.
In the fall of 1983 the two schools would start playing each other on a regular basis. Kentucky has had the upper hand with a 20-11 record against the Cards in the “modern era.” The rivalry fell off the national radar in the late 90’s when Louisville went through some down years…enter Rick Pitino. The former Kentucky coach who brought Kentucky back from a near death penalty, won a national title in Lexington was now sitting on the opposite side line. To say Kentucky fans were upset would be a slight understatement. This was war, the traitor, Benedict Arnold, how can you do this to the Big Blue Nation? Kentucky did win the first Kentucky/Pitino match-up, a 62-82 blow-out in Lexington. However Louisville would win 4 of the next 7 to even Pitino’s record to 4-4 against his former team. If the rivalry hadn’t gotten interesting with Pitino going to Louisville the plot would thicken even more when Kentucky hired John Calipari in 2009. The two coaches really don’t care for one another. Pitino’s Wildcats knocked off Calipari & UMass in the semi- finals in 1996 & the two went head-to-head at the NBA level as well. Cal has owned Louisville since his arrival in Lexington going 3-0 against the Cards and none have really been that close. The first match up featured a scuffle in the tunnel before the teams took the floor & then an all out brawl almost occurred in the first 5 minutes of the game. Both coaches would probably trade a few of those wins against each other for one on Saturday night. In what will be the most-heated, most-intense of all the Louisville, Kentucky match ups one team will move on to the National Title game while the other heads north and starts thinking about next years’ revenge already. No matter the outcome this will be one for the ages in the Bluegrass State, one that will be talked about for years.