R.I.P. Year of the Cardinal

Tony Vanetti: Congratulations, Matt, on a huge basketball win and a big day for Kentucky. I’m so glad that a win over Louisville can bring together the Cat fans, who were divided before the game had started on whether they liked their own team or not.

 Matt Jones: First of all, how much things can change since Saturday at four o’clock. Saturday at four o’clock, it looked like the Year of the Cardinal was fully with us. Louisville had a shot to win back-to-back national titles and Kentucky was falling apart.

Now, a few days later, we have a complete meltdown on the UofL win and a great Kentucky victory. Let’s start with the game. I was really happy, Tony, with the way Kentucky played. I was happy to see the young guys step up, especially when Randle went down. At the end of the day this might be controversial, but I think Calipari outcoached Pitino with 11 minutes to go. The game was tied. UK’s best player was on the bench and Louisville still couldn’t win.

 Vanetti: That could’ve happened. Or it’s just that your team, especially that backcourt, had been through enough battles this season that they have been here before. And with that Rupp Arena crowd that they haven’t experienced yet to that point. That excitement pushed them in the last 10 minutes and the Harrison twins closed Louisville out on a run and finished them off. Yes, Kentucky deserved to win that game. Yes, Kentucky outplayed Louisville in the last 10 minutes of the game without their star. But it was the Harrison twins that closed the door on them, and congratulations to them.

 Jones: Yeah, well, we thought going into the game the Louisville backcourt would dominate the UK backcourt. The Louisville backcourt played well for most of the game, maybe not at the end. But then the story of that Kentucky’s backcourt was the twins and Young –all played extremely well down the stretch. I thought the crowd mattered. It was loud. It was exciting.

Let me ask you this: Calipari probably would say “I told you all that in the end, this notion ‘experience over talent,’ all of that, but at the end of the day, who’s the better team?” The better team usually wins, and it’s not just about who’s been through the battles. Do you agree with that?

 Vanetti: You can’t just go Michigan State, North Carolina and Baylor. You also played Boise State and Belmont and also Providence.

 Jones: Yeah, but you have a team full of guys that just won the National Championship. They haven’t been through big games this year, but they have gone through big games the last couple years. It’s not like they’ve never been in a tough game.

 Vanetti: I think it was a factor. I can’t get in an argument over whether the talent wins over experience because I’m one-in-five against this.

 Jones: But last year you were better. I think that’s the key point. Last year Louisville was just a better team. If they played five times, Louisville may win all five.

But the point that I’ve always tried to make about this rivalry, about this notion of Cal vs. Rick’s team: 90 percent of the time, the better team wins. Period. If they’re old, if they’re young, whatever, the better team wins. This year I’m not sure if Kentucky’s a better team. I think maybe they are slightly, but the better team in that game won and I think that’s what we learnt from it.

 Vanetti: Yeah. I agree with you. Yes, I don’t know where these teams are going to be at the end of the year, and obviously with the news about Chane Behanan coming forward, what will this team look like at the end of March getting into the meat of the NCAA Tournament? I just don’t know.

 Jones: What do you make of the Behanan news? We’ve talked for a while that he’s been in trouble since he’s been at the University of Louisville. He didn’t do anything Saturday, but there was a time that kid was MVP in the region his freshman year. What do you make of Behanan’s career at UofL?

 Vanetti: I said in this paper to you that the last time he was suspended that Chane will never play in a UofL uniform again because I didn’t think he had it in him to do what it takes to get back on the team. Well, I was wrong, he did that. But in turn, I was kind of right, because he is off the team again in just a couple of weeks after that. The kid has got problems. You know Rick and them gave him…how many chances do you think they gave him?

 Jones: 550.

 Vanetti: Yeah, OK, all right. Yeah, that’s probably an accurate number. You know what? This is on Chane. I wish him luck. I hope he plays well in Europe. There’s no way Chane Behanan plays in the NBA.

 Jones: On a serious note, I’ve always heard people say that he’s not a bad kid. There’s some talk that Behanan knew before the game. Would you have played him with that up in the air?

 Vanetti: No. I don’t think you can. That would have given Rick the perfect out to say “We had to bench Chane, and if we would have had Chane, you could’ve won the game.” But we don’t know that for sure yet so I’m not going to comment on whether they knew or they didn’t know about his final violation before the game.

 Jones: What do you make of Rick Pitino complaining about the referees after the game? I find that to be unbelievably lame to say at the end of the game. He mentioned the refs twice: once to say they were affected by the crowd, and once to say that Julius Randle was the biggest beneficiary of the new rules. That’s ridiculous.

 Vanetti: I think it’s lame for fans, coaches or writers to ever complain about the refs. I hate it. You lost the game. You’re going to get the benefit of some calls and you’re going to be on the other side of calls. The refs did not cost Louisville that game. Kentucky cost Louisville that game. It didn’t help, but it didn’t kill them.

 Jones: Sometimes it’s just a one or two-point game. There’s sometimes a play that, if it goes the different way, maybe you win, maybe you lose. But now, with an eight or nine-point game for the vast majority of the second half, if Kentucky hits their free throws, they probably win by double digits. I don’t really understand. But that’s Rick’s mojo right? Tony, it’s never his fault.

Vanetti: Well let me ask you, how can 10 minutes of a basketball season unite a fan base and change everyone’s opinion about the team?

 Jones: Well, you’re comparing this team to you all. For 18 months, we’ve been listening to you all chirp about Year of the Cardinal, etc. and it was good to finally end that. I think the Year of the Cardinal, at least on the basketball side, is over.

Now you got a good football win. Though nobody cares, because at the end of the day this is about that basketball game. Now with the Behanan news and this loss, do you think Louisville can contend for a championship today now without Behanan?

 Vanetti: Rick. This is his MO. It’s always the drama of the mid-season players getting kicked off the team or suspended and the team doesn’t like each other, Rick is driving them crazy, a couple of them want to quit. This happens every single year, and then Rick, with two weeks to go in the season, somehow pulls them together, and then he’s a genius again and then they play well in the tournament for the most part.

Jones: Yeah, they’re still going to make the tournament, they’re still going to be a good team. But the question is, are they a national championship contender? In my opinion, you only get teams that really have a shot to win the title once every…I don’t know, it depends…Cal’s probably had it once every two years.  But most teams, it’s once every three or four years. This was a team of yours that had a legitimate shot. Do they still have a legitimate shot?

 Vanetti: The percentage goes down. Did losing Chane hurt? There’s no doubt about that. It does hurt. And you probably need Chane to win a championship. Do you need Chane to go to Dallas? I think you can still get to the Final Four.

Jones: Yeah, that’s fair. I would agree with that. Do you think Kentucky can win the Championship?

 Vanetti: No. I still don’t think-

 Jones: You’re willing to say Louisville is still a contender and not Kentucky after Kentucky wins-

Vanetti: No, I just think they’re probably not going to win the championship and I don’t think Kentucky’s going to win it either. I don’t think either one of these schools wins the national title. There were still some missed free throws and there could have been a deal where Louisville came back to win that game at the end there. I just think you’ve got some work to do.

Jones: That’s a fair point. They do have to work on their free throws. I don’t think they’re the favorites or anything. But for the first time after that game, for the first time since before they lost to Baylor, I do think they have the makeup of a team that could win the title.

But more than anything here, the Year of the Cardinal is over. December 28, 2013 at about 6:30 p.m., we said RIP Year of the Cardinal. I think we’re back to where we need to be in life with Louisville being a nice story, Kentucky being the big team in the Bluegrass, and Tony, it makes for a happy New Year.

 Vanetti: It’s still a long year. I’m sure you will have some special plan on New Year’s Eve to bury the past of 2013. You can’t wait.

 Jones: I think you’re right. A toast to the dead Cardinal bird.

Vanetti: Please. I don’t want to read about some sort of ceremony you’ve performed on some poor cardinal, OK? It’s still a protected bird.