The History
UK v UL [smell]

UK vs UL

There has never been love lost between the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky football and basketball camps, whether it be players, coaches or fans. These two groups are not only bitter rivals on the field and court, they truly do not like one another in any realm of human existence.

With respect to basketball, this mutual hatred came to a boil between the late 1970s and the early 1980s as Coach Crum lobbied for a chance to play the mighty wildcats. Coach Crum labored to build a nationally recognized basketball program under the shadow of the tradition and attention of the world renowned Wildcats, holders of five national championships. However, the UK camp snubbed Louisville and Crum and publicly opposed this game.

The Baron himself planted the roots of UK's opposition. Why should UK provide its prominent stage for Crum and the Cardinals to strut their stuff. It was clear that the Baron viewed the suggestion of any such game as a “lose-lose” proposition for the University of Kentucky basketball program. If UK defeated “little brother,” Kentucky's status is not enhanced due to the attitude that Kentucky is dominant and “should win.” Similarly, if Louisville could leave the game victorious, Kentucky would lose some of its gloss and stature with future recruits, ultimately eroding fan support across the Bluegrass State. Coach Rupp had opposed this series because he felt it would divide the fan base, and in his 43 years at the helm, his UK teams only played Louisville 3 times, winning twice. 

Nevertheless, once Coach Rupp retired, this argument reappeared for Joe B. Hall's entire tenure. The status quo prevailed under the devout leadership of Coach Hall, a true disciple of Rupp. The intensity of the pressure on UK to accept this game mounted after almighty CBS, owner of NCAA Tournament broadcast rights, became a partisan in the debate. CBS publicly chastised Kentucky and Hall for being fearful of the growing threat, only 90 miles down the road, and the pressure began to mount with each new season. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the NCAA placed UK and UL on collision course in the NCAA tournament brackets in 1982, Kentucky needing only to defeat Middle Tennessee State in a first round game to meet Crum's Cardinals. However, Kentucky did not cooperate, losing to MTSU in Nashville 50-44. Not to be deterred, the NCAA placed these two teams on a collision course again in 1983, and they met in the Mideast Regional Final in Knoxville, TN.

What a game!

Unfortunately for the UK camp, Louisville prevailed 80-68 in overtime. In the immediate aftermath, the cry for regular competition rose to a clamor, reaching the Kentucky State Legislature where some introduced bills to force a regular season game between these two Kentucky teams. It seemed that the political pressure was the element required, perhaps coupled by Kentucky's desire for a rapid rematch to avenge the disappointing loss, to achieve Crum's long time goal, a regular season game with Kentucky.

The first game of this regular season series occurred exactly 8 months later, November 26, 1983. This would be the first game of the season for both teams, and this first game occurred on the floor at Rupp Arena in Lexington. I was fortunate to be present for this classic. Kentucky won 65-44, and the series was on.

The UK-UL series did not really begin in 1983, even though these teams had not played each other since the Mideast Regional in 1959 in which UL prevailed 76-61 over #2 ranked Kentucky. From 1959 to 1983, the overall series record stood at 9-3 in Kentucky's favor. However, for Kentucky and Louisville fans who came on line after 1960, THE SERIES began in 1983. As noted, the teams split the two 1983 meetings, and since that time, they have met each other annually, on a home and home basis, with one additional NCAA Regional pairing in 1984 [Don't you love those NCAA-CBS boys] which Kentucky won on its way to the Final Four. The series stands today at 26-14 in Kentucky's favor, and since that shot-gun wedding in March 1983, Kentucky holds a 25-11 edge.

This intra-state war only intensifies with time. Joe B. Hall's UK teams played Crum's Cards four times before Hall retired at the end of the 1985 season, splitting two NCAA tournament matchups and two early season pairings. Eddie Sutton's four year tenure as the Kentucky Head Coach produced three Wildcat wins, with Louisville only able to defeat Sutton's last team amidst a complete collapse and turmoil of the UK program caused by the NCAA investigations and related issues. Rick Pitino arrived in Lexington to rebuild the Kentucky program in the fall of 1989, and while losing to Coach Crum's Cardinals in 1989, his Cat teams earned an impressive 6-2 record in Pitino's eight seasons at the Wildcat helm.

This grudge match changed its tenor again with the coaching change at Kentucky prior to the 1997-98 season when Pitino left Kentucky to pursue his fortunes in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, and Tubby Smith took the reins of the Wildcat program. Coach Smith's first two teams lost to Crum's Cardinals, and his third and fourth teams defeated the Cards.

Following the 2000-01 season, the University of Louisville replaced Coach Crum with none other than former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. This singular move has elevated this competitive rivalry to new intensity. Coach Smith prevailed over his predecessor's first UL team 82-62 in Rupp Arena. However, Coach Pitino found success at Freedom Hall the following year, and then entered the Mecca of college basketball, Rupp Arena, in December 2003 and handed #2 ranked Kentucky a lesson, 65-56. However, Kentucky responded to those back to back whippings by defeating the Cardinals the next 3 games, bringing Tubby Smith's overall record against Louisville to 6-4, and 4-2 against the Pitino coached versions.

Following the 2007 season, Tubby Smith left Kentucky for Minnesota, and Billy Gillispie entered the UK scene as head coach. Eddie Sutton's tenure was shortened by NCAA problems in the late 1980s, but he at least defeated Louisville 3 out of 4 years. Gillispie was not able to defeat the Cardinals in two tries, and following his second season [2009], the UK Brain Trust fired Gillispie [0-2 v Louisville], and John Calipari became UK's next coach.

On January 2, 2010, Coach Calipari led his young, talented, and undefeated Wildcats into his first ever meeting against Rick Pitino's Cardinals at Rupp Arena. Coach Calipari's Wildcats won round 1 of this rivalry during his era at Rupp Arena 71-62 despite Louisville's game plan to goad DeMarcus Cousin and other Wildcats into altercations with the purpose of affecting their ejection from the game. That did not work, and the Calipari led Cats put the rivalry back onto the winning side of the ledger.

Calipari 1 Pitino 0


In year two, the Cats marched into the brand new Yum Center for their first ever encountered with Louisville in that new arena. Despite being a clear underdog, Josh Harrellson emerged as THE MAN, with 23 points and 14 rebounds as the Cats marched right back out of the Yum Center with a huge 15 point man handling of little brother in his building.

Calipari 2 Pitino 0.


On New Year's Eve of 2011, the Rivalry moved back to Rupp Arena, and the Cats entered the game with an 12-1 record, ranked #2 in the nation. The Cats' only loss came at #6 Indiana by 1 point. However, the Cardinals returned to Rupp also highly ranked, as high as #4 prior to Christmas. The Cats and Cards enter the third installment of the Calipari/Pitino era of the Rivalry a solid 9 to 11 point favorite, and the Cats won 69-62 after Louisville scored 6 unanswered points in the last 10 seconds of the game to trim a 13 point lead to the final 7 point margin.

Calipari 3 Pitino 0


December 31, 2011!!! Wind the clock forward to March 30, 2012. The NCAA Tournament's Final Four, 6:09 pm. The Cats and Cards square off again, and the entire Commonwealth is spinning for the week leading to this renewal. Think back to late March 1983 when the NCAA put these programs on a collision course that has transformed into an annual grudge match that transfixes the entire Commonwealth each December. Now, 29 years later, here we go again in the tournament. The Cats defeat the Cards again, this time 69-61, to advance to Monday night's National Championship game.

Calipari 4 Pitino 0.


Bragging rights for the rest of my life! It is time for UK to take the last step in this silly "rivalry" and end it forever.

In 2011-12 , the Cats and Cards entered their annual bragging rights game with the Cats perched atop the college basketball world, poised for a run that would eventually bring #8 to Lexington. The Cards were not chopped liver, and fought their way to a final four rematch against the Cats. The Cats won both games, by almost identical scores, 69-62 on New Year's Eve and 69-61 in the Final Four.

In 2012-13, the roles are nearly reversed, with the game moving from Lexington (and New Orleans) to the Yum Center. The teams fight the good fight, and the Cards earn a win by 3 points, 80-77 over a group of Cats that grew up a measure in the YUM center.

Calipari 4-Pitino 1.


The 2013-14 edition of the Cats and Cards moved back to Rupp Arena. The Cats struggled through a difficult non-conference schedule to a 9-3 record entering THE GAME. The Cards have breezed through a much easier non-conference slate of opponents to an 11-1 record, and have the most efficient team in the nation as they travel down I 64 to meet the Cats at Rupp. The Cats stand as the 12th most efficient team entering this game. The Cats prevailed in Rupp Arena by 7 points, 73-66, giving Coach Calipari his fifth win over the Rick Pitino coached Cardinals in six tries.

Calipari 5 Pitino 1

However, the rivalry did not end at Rupp Arena for the 2013-14 season because for the second time in three years, these programs collided in the NCAA Tournament. This time the collision occurred in the Sweet 16 round. The NCAA, in its infinite Wisdom, assigned Louisville to a 4 seed and the Cats to an 8 seed in a region headed by undefeated Wichita State. The Cats ended the Shockers' attempt to run the table to glory in the NCAA second round in what most basketball observers say is one of the greatest basketball games of all time, and was certainly christened the best game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. That upset caused this Cats-Cards showdown. After trailing for nearly the entire game, Alex Poythress put the Cats on his back in the last 5 minutes, and Aaron Harrison made a huge 3 pointer inside the last 30 seconds to lift the Cats to their second win over the highly ranked Cards in this season by the score of 74-69.

Calipari 6 Pitino 1

The 2014-15 season will see the rivalry game move back to Louisville's Yum Center. The Cats and the Cards, again highly ranked, have moved through their non-conference schedules without a defeat for either program. The Cats will enter the Yum Center at 12-0 and the Cards will be defending their 11-0 record on Saturday, December 27, 2014 as these programs meet for the 8th time in the 6 seasons since Coach Calipari arrived to lead the Cats. Entering this game, the Cats stand proud as the nation's most efficient basketball team and Louisville is not far behind as the nation's 5th most efficient team. Both teams have achieved these ratings based on defensive efficiencies that are heretofore unheard. The Cats raw defensive efficiency is 0.723 ppp while Louisville's is just behind at 0.750 ppp. The Cats' offense has been stronger than the Cards, and the Cats have played a more difficult schedule thus far than the Cards.

The Cats got out of the Yum Center with yet another victory over the Cards, 58-50.

Calipari 7 Pitino 1


The 2015-16 season will see the rivalry battle occur in Rupp Arena. The Cats and the Cards are again highly ranked, but each team has sustained losses in their non-conference schedules leading to this encounter. The Cards have played 12 games, 10 of them at the Yum Center against a very weak array of so called opponents, one on a neutral court against #224 St. Louis, and one true road game. The Cards' only venture into a hostile arena produced their loss by 4 points to #5 Michigan State. The Cats have played 11 games, 7 at home against a soft array of opponents, two on neutral courts, and two true road game. The Cats have split their neutral court games, beating #9 Duke and losing to #50 Ohio State last Saturday. The Cats have also split their road games, beating #279 South Florida and losing to #40 UCLA. The #6 Cards are 11-1 while the #12 Cats are 9-2. The Cats raw defensive efficiency is 0.922 ppp while Louisville's is 0.811 ppp. The Cards' offense has been stronger than the Cats', and the Cats have played a more difficult schedule thus far than the Cards. Pomeroy rates this game in the Cats' column by 1 point, 71-70 while the BBF4UK ANE method gives a 5 point edge to the Cards this season, 74-69.

Cats continue their dominance over Pitino's Cards during the Calipari Era with a 75-73 win at Rupp Arena.

Calipari 8 Pitino 1


The 2016-17 season will see the rivalry battle occur in The Yum Center. The Cats and the Cards are again highly ranked, but each team has sustained losses in their first 11 non-conference games leading to this encounter. The Cards have played 11 games, 7 of them at the Yum Center, three on a neutral court, and one true road game at Grand Canyon. The Cards' only loss was by 3 points to #11 Baylor on a neutral court, and the Cards' most impressive win was by 7 over #12 Purdue. The Cats have played 7 games at home, and four on neutral courts. This game will be the first game for the Cats on an opponent's court. The Cats only loss was to #9 UCLA at Rupp, and the Cats' most impressive win was by 3 points over #6 North Carolina on a neutral court. The #7 Cards are 10-1 while the #4 Cats are 10-1. The Cats raw defensive efficiency is 0.907 ppp while Louisville's is 0.841 ppp. The Cats' offense (1.206) has been stronger than the Cards' offense (1.105), and the Cards have played a more difficult schedule thus far than the Cats. Pomeroy rates this game in the Cards' column by 2 points, 79-77 while the BBF4UK ANE method gives a 2 point edge to the Cards this season, 74-72.

Cats fall to the Cards by 3, 73-70 primarily due to poor shooting from the arc and from the free throw line.

Calipari 8 Pitino 2


The 2017-18 season will find this rivalry in a very unusual place. First, there is no Rick Pitino sitting on the Card bench. The Calipari-Pitino rivalry in this series ends with an 8-2 record. Second, for the first time since Coach Calipari's arrival, neither team will come into this game in the top 10. Over the past 8 seasons, at least one of the two have been in the top 10 and last season, both teams were in the top 10. This year, the Cats will enter this annual grudge match as the nation's 45th most efficient team and Louisville will enter Rupp Arena as the nation's 40th most efficient team.

Neither of these factors make this rivalry any less vitriolic. And as strange as it may sound, the poor start to the current season that these teams are having actually work to raise the importance of this season's revival of the rivalry because the loser risks having its season spiral into the tank, while the winner may be able to use a win as a stimulus for heightened hope. The Cards have played 12 games, 10 of them at the Yum Center, one on a neutral court, and one true road game at Purdue. The Cards have lost twice, at #2 Purdue by 9 points, and to #29 Seton Hall at the Yum Center by 2 points. The Cards' most impressive win to date was over #117 Indiana by 9 at the Yum Center. The Cats have played 8 of their 11 games at home, and three on neutral courts. The Cats have also lost twice, to #70 UCLA by 8 on a neutral court and to #5 Kansas by 4 on a neutral court. The Cats' most impressive win was by 7 points over #23 Virginia Tech at Rupp.

The #40 Cards are 10-2 while the #45 Cats are 9-2. The Cats raw defensive efficiency is 0.954 ppp while Louisville's is 0.927 ppp. The Cats' offense (1.114) has been stronger than the Cards' offense (1.096), and the Cats have played a more difficult schedule thus far than the Cards. Pomeroy rates this game in the Cats' column by 5 points, 75-70 while the BBF4UK ANE method gives a 3 point edge to the Cats this season, 75-72.

Submitted by Richard Cheeks

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