PHOENIX — Even before Louisville knows for sure whether its Final Four opponent will be Baylor or Kentucky, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino received a question about what it would be like to play the rival Wildcats.
Pitino insisted he has admiration rather than jealousy for top-ranked Kentucky's success, but he acknowledged the matchup would inspire plenty of interest and emotion from both rival fan bases.
"There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us," Pitino said. "You've got to watch. They've got to put the fences up on bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville."
Kentucky and Louisville have met 43 times since 1913 and every year since 1983, but the Bluegrass State rivals have never faced each other in a Final Four. In fact, they've only met four times in the NCAA tournament, splitting four meetings with Louisville winning the most famous one -- the 1983 "Dream Game" in the Elite Eight that essentially relaunched the rivalry.
If Louisville does meet Kentucky, the Cardinals can draw confidence from how well they played at Rupp Arena in January. They hung with the Wildcats into the second half before losing 69-62, not a bad performance considering the opponent, the venue and the injuries that plagued Louisville throughout a 22-win regular season.
"We had a good regular season and I don't think the majority of our fans really appreciated our terrific season," Pitino said. "They looked down the road and [Kentucky] only lost one game. I keep trying to tell our fans, we're not Kentucky. We have no desire to be Kentucky. We think they're excellent. We think they're great. I coached there. It's great. But we want to be Louisville."
Pitino may not like being measured against Kentucky, but that's inevitable in one of the nation's fiercest rivalries. And were the Cardinals and Wildcats to meet next Saturday in New Orleans, it would be bedlam in the state of Kentucky and a great moment for college basketball.
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