via www.gannett-cdn.com (Photo: Timothy D. Easley AP)
Don’t tell me not to blame the refs. I’ve seen this schtick before. You’d have better luck playing pick-up sticks with your butt cheeks than you would trying to get a fair game called at Rupp Arena with John Calipari on the Kentucky sidelines.
If you’re a Louisville fan, you know the routine. If you’re playing Kentucky at Rupp Arena in the Calipari era, the most important player on the Cardinals’ roster is going be taken out by the officials. It occurred two years ago when Gorgui Dieng was mystifyingly rung up for three fouls in a span of 2:20. Up until that point in the second half, UK’s Anthony Davis had yet to score a point. After Dieng took a seven-minute second half seat, the Cats took a seven point lead – which equaled their margin of victory.
It went down yesterday after the Cards jumped out to an 8-0 lead and Wayne Blackshear got tagged with two personal fouls. A quick glance at the game’s Play-By-Play summary is nothing short of comical: UK’s James Young missed three pointer (19:03), Young turnover (18:30), Louisville builds a 5-0 lead, foul on Blackshear (18:22), Blackshear defensive rebound, Louisville builds an 8-0 lead, foul on Blackshear (18:22). Less than two minutes into the game, in span of 39 seconds, Blackshear was rung up with two personals.
Heading into yesterday’s game, you knew Louisville’s backcourt would produce. You knew Randle would get his share of points. Blackshear was the most important player for Louisville heading into this season's annual match-up with its in-state foe. Blackshear was the X-factor. And for the first 1:38 of the game (before picking up is second foul), you could see why. In that early stretch, UK’s Andrew Harrison missed a pair of jumpers, his brother Aaron blanked another and Young misfired and turned the ball over. Blackshear has been instrumental in Louisville’s 2-3 match-up zone and countering the opposing teams’ wings this season.
Louisville’s Luke Hancock played an admirable game, all things considered. He was nifty with his ball-fakes, didn’t commit a turnover and got a lot of open looks – open looks that would have been better-suited for Blackshear at this point in the season. Heading into yesterday’s game, Blackshear was shooting 45-percent from behind the arc, and had buried three triples in each of his two previous games. Blackshear is Louisville’s best shooter and had scored in double-digits in his team’s previous four games.
But Blackshear was truly missed on the defensive end. UK’s Young scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. That doesn’t happen if Blackshear’s on the floor. Hancock’s effort was there, though his injured Achilles' doesn’t appear as if it’s 100 percent – and if it is, clearly he’s still getting back into form. That’s not a knock on Hancock’s game at all. This year’s Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player simply didn’t get to play basketball the entire offseason. He’s yet to get back to full-speed. He’ll get there.
Kentucky out-rebounded Louisville by eight. Young pulled down 10 of those boards. He doesn’t do that if Blackshear’s in the game. Young played 36 minutes. Blackshear played 12. There’s your ballgame.
I won’t even get into the plethora of other missed calls and atrocious phantom fouls whistled on the Cards. I think it speaks volumes when Cardinals’ Coach Rick Pitino – who has rarely criticized officiating throughout his long Hall of Fame career – does so, in his own unique way, following the game. Pitino told reporters after the game that no other player has benefited more from the new foul rules than UK’s Julius Randle; Pitino felt Randle committed an offensive foul on his first possession of the game. And Randle’s second potential offensive foul (that wasn’t called) saw Randle barreling out-of control in the open court into a Louisville defender’s chest, who had already established position.
Pitino commented after the game that referee Tony Greene seems to officiate this rivalry tilt every year – and Pitino’s pretty much spot-on. Louisville has played Kentucky three times at Rupp Arena in the Calipari era, and Greene has officiated all three. The only match-up Greene hasn’t officiated was Louisville’s win over Kentucky last year in Louisville. In the five seasons Calipari has been UK’s coach, Greene has officiated four Louisville games.
I’ll let each individual fan decide whether or not there’s something more to the one-sided officiating than human nature, such as being swayed by the home crowd. I’ll let each individual fan decide if they think it’s not past Calipari to do whatever it takes to defeat his arch-nemesis at Rupp Arena. Here’s what we know about Calipari: he’s had the same official on-hand for three consecutive match-ups versus Louisville at Rupp Arena, one of Calipari’s stated goals when he took over the reigns at Kentucky in 2009 was to run Pitino out of the state, he’s had two Final Fours vacated from the NCAA record books and he’s closely connected with agent William Wesley. Calipari has left two programs in scandal and has ties to one of the shadiest power brokers in sports. If you think a billion dollar industry such as college basketball is above being corrupt, you haven’t followed its history. Is Calipari apart of its corruption? I’ll leave that up to you.
What Really Matters
The regular season match-up between Kentucky and Louisville is a heated one for fans. Wildcat fans will be sure to let Louisville fans know that Calipari is now 5-1 versus Pitino since taking over the reigns from Billy Gillispie in 2009.
But let’s never forget what truly matters in the Bluegrass State: Final Fours and NCAA titles – and since Calipari has been UK’s coach, Kentucky and Louisville have been to the same amount of Final Fours (two) and won the same amount of NCAA titles (one). When it comes to what really matters in the Commonwealth, in the Calipari era, we’re dead even.
Postseason futures haven’t been written yet, though one thing is certain – Final Fours aren’t played in Rupp Arena. Thank God.