The Game to End All Games

Tony Vanetti: Matt, both basketball teams are undefeated and it’s the highest ranked both teams have been this season. Is this the biggest game of the season for both teams, and will it be the biggest game in the rivalry so far besides the original?

Matt Jones: No, it might be the biggest regular season game, but even then I’m not sure. It’s the first time they have both been undefeated, which is big. But anytime they play in the tournament it’s always bigger, because it matters more. I think the first regular season game was huge, and Rick Pitino’s first game was huge, but this will probably be the time when the two teams are at their best, so in that regard we should be excited.

Vanetti: When Rick Pitino talked about too much blue in the KFC Yum! Center, what is wrong with your fanbase? Why does it want to pay way too much money for tickets and then invade our lovely arena?

Jones: Because it makes you so mad, and because y’all are such cheap dates. I mean it’s the easiest thing, you can just buy up those tickets. It doesn’t happen the other way. You can’t get into our place, but we can get into yours. That’s the real difference in the fanbase. UK fans are willing to spend their vacation money to go to these games. The UofL fanbase is really interested up to a point, but then they go, ‘You know what, I want to get some new rims on my car or potentially a vacation to Orlando with my family, I’m going to go ahead and sell these tickets. And I’m not criticizing that, it might be considered rational, but the Big Blue Nation is not totally rational and would rather go to a game.

Vanetti: I think it’s interesting that one makes their vacation money on it, and the other spends their vacation money on it. But I think there is another angle, in that Louisville fans are not as happy going to Rupp Arena as Kentucky fans are going to Freedom Hall or the KFC Yum! Center.

Jones: Yeah, I don’t know why that is. Because I never really felt like Rupp Arena was that bad for away fans, and I don’t think the KFC Yum! Center is either. I’ve said this before, I don’t think Papa John’s is a good experience for away fans or UK fans, but I don’t get that feeling in the KFC Yum! Center. But basketball crowds are different. I think part of is that Louisville rarely wins, so I will say that having been to road games at your rivals’ arena, when you beat them it’s awesome. When you lose it’s two hours of pure torture.

Vanetti: OK, well to set this game up further, two of the players involved have been thrown up as Player of the Year, and Willie Cauley-Stein and Montrezl Harrell are on that list. Is this game a sort of Heisman moment, if you will? Where these two guys go at it and if one dominates then they could take a sort of lead in the race for player of the year?

Jones: I think Montrezl Harrell, if he wants to win has to play really well. Willie Cauley-Stein has been playing great, but he’s only going to get that if Kentucky completely dominate and go undefeated. He would win then because the team is playing collectively and he’s the head of the team. Montrezl Harrell is more about Montrezl Harrell. I think if he wants to win National Player of the Year then he needs to have a great game, and I expect him to have a great game. Willie, I think he’ll play well, but if he doesn’t I still think they can win. That’s the weird thing about this Kentucky team, in that to win they don’t really need anybody. It’s more of a team game, whereas Montrezl is more of an individual.

Vanetti: Alright, Alex Poythress, it’s obviously terrible what has happened with the injury. Will he come back from surgery, or will he throw his name into the draft?

Jones: I think he’ll probably come back. I don’t know what else he could do. If he goes to the draft then he won’t be selected in the first round and he’ll be rehabbing, so why not do that in college? I think Kentucky will be okay, but it really stinks for him.

Vanetti: Okay, I’m trying to figure out who’s got more pressure on them here.

Jones: UofL does!

Vanetti: Okay, well look at this game: Rick is 1-6 against Cal, so there is a lot of pressure there, plus you’re the greatest, super, most dominant team of the century, yada, yada.

Jones: It doesn’t matter. Think about what happens if they lose. Because ultimately if you win it’s great. If you lose, that’s 1-7 for Rick. How can you have any confidence that you can beat Cal, even in your home arena?
Vanetti: Well, again, no one is expecting to win the game, so how can the pressure be on Louisville?

Jones: The loss will hurt you all more. It would be great if we went 40-0, but for most fans we realize that’s not a reasonable thing to expect. The goal is to win a championship and losing to Louisville would not affect that. But for you guys, if you lose, you’re still going to have a great season, but essentially have to acknowledge that you’re 1-7 against Cal, and you’re not going to win the championship.

Vanetti: I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself in saying that if you don’t win against UK you’re not going to win the championship.

Jones: You don’t think your fan-base will be severely disappointed if they lose?

Vanetti: I think they’re already severely disappointed from the loss in the tournament last year, so I think they are carrying a little bit of weight from that. But you’re putting a death nail into their season if they lose against Kentucky. A lot of teams get better and a lot of teams get worse, and you have to play the tournament. The tournament doesn’t guarantee the best team wins.

Jones: Are you guys having team turmoil there? I’m enjoying this little drama.

Vanetti: This happens at the exact same time every year, that there is team drama and it’s like clockwork trying to work these guys into a lather, and then they come together at the end of the conference play. Rick will cut them loose, and it will all be fine.

Jones: It wasn’t like this the past couple of years, you’re right. It was more during Pitino’s first six or seven years, but I don’t really think Rick did it the last couple of years.

Vanetti: I’m not worried about it. I think they will figure it out by the end of the year. It’s a good team; they all like each other. There are a couple of players on this team with edge, including Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. They are very competitive and when you put those kinds of guys all together it’s going to get a little chippy. But we’ll see you on the court on Dec. 27.