Both Sides of the Divide: How Beating Duke in the Elite Eight Felt as a former UK fan (1996-2006/7) and How it Did Feel as a U of L Fan (2007-rest of life).

For the first 16 years of my life, I pulled for that other school down the road, UK (or LBA to most CCers). I never hated Louisville, just didn’t want them beating UK at that time. I didn’t know better then, as that is how I was raised in the extended family. Funny how that sounds now as a diehard Cards fan and proud 2012 alumnus of the University of Louisville. Anyway, back to the title of the story.

Any college basketball fan knows about the “Greatest Game” that pitted Kentucky against Duke in the 1992 Regional Final in Philadelphia. UK had the lead with very little time left on the clock and Laettner made the shot to win the game and eventually lead them to a repeat National Title that we see an interminable number of times during March Madness. I was a toddler then, but my sister was in high school and was crushed by the results. She was--and still is to a point, though she goes more heavily for the Cards in red for my sake now—a UK fan. Most people gloss over the Timberlake stomp on chest that Laettner committed and admitted to doing when talking about that game. Were that caught by the refs, it's later known as a bad act of sportsmanship that marred a great game. It still did regardless, but not as much.

UK got their revenge on them 6 years later in the South Regional Final in the Elite Eight in St. Petersburg in 1998. Came back from double digits down to win that game, and later, a national championship (their 6th at the time) against Utah, a team they always seemed to beat in big moments. The team was led by Jeff Sheppard, the eventual MOP of the tournament, a player that had to redshirt due to injury in a past year. Kevin Ware got badly hurt tonight. While he may not see a court at least for another year, another similarity, though this one for U of L was more gruesome.

It was Tubby Smith’s first national championship in 1998, even if Pitino’s holdovers were most of the roster.

Should both Big East teams keep winning, the Cards get a shot at Syracuse, a team that they usually seem to beat most of the time in Big East play (save last season, but I’ll take the Final Four over a head-to-head win without a Final Four). Though I wouldn't envy a fourth meeting very much, especially since Syracuse is smoking people in the tournament after the anger of their collapse that the Cards caused to them in New York at MSG.

Or perhaps Florida, when Rick Pitino has NEVER lost to Billy Donovan in 7 meetings—last year being a case in point en route to New Orleans even during a Regional Final game where for the first 30 minutes, I wanted Spain to buy back Florida and redact the Adams-Onis Treaty out of spite--and the Cards still won the game. (Editor's Note: Michigan wiped the floor with Florida in the early Sunday game).

Or Michigan, a team that CRP lost to at UK with a similarly dominant team in 1992-93. This would also be a collision course of two pretty good basketball teams as that was should they both win on Saturday to face off Monday.

Another similarity checked off to the good regardless of the winner on the other side.

Flash forward another 11 years to the University of Louisville fan and my student (Fall 2008-Spring 2012) days for me. We all know about the Elite Eight game against Michigan State. That was the most deflating I ever felt after a basketball game after that loss. It got a little better with the Lady Cards going to the Finals and being able to be in St. Louis for both Women’s Final Four games, but that stung badly. Not so much that they lost, but HOW they lost. I wasn’t totally shocked in hindsight. The road game at Notre Dame and UConn at home games that year were signs that they could struggle and drop a deuce in the middle of the court for 40 minutes. Plus, North Carolina was pretty dominant that year. It arguably would have been worse had they lost that game to them…again in the tournament like in 2008 when I committed to attend the University of Louisville and started my Cards fandom for good.

Another revenge factor is the Duke Battle 4 Atlantis loss. No Gorgui that day, Duke usually plays well pre-January (and did that day), and the Cards lost a hard-fought game. Since the early losses and the WTF at Notre Dame loss this year, they have been a juggernaut so far with only 2 close end-of-game results that were wins in crunch time. It reminded me a lot of the 1998 Kentucky team that won the SEC and NCAAT games, though the Cards have 1 more loss than that team, they can match that UK’s team win total with a National Championship this year. This Louisville team now has a multi-layered revenge factor—a 3-fold one for CRP. To avenge losing to Coach K in 1992 for Rick, to avenge the epic fail of 2009 vs. Michigan State in Indy with another Elite 8 game in Indy this year, and to keep our Revenge Tour going with beating Duke to get wins over ALL THE TEAMS—sans Georgetown because they LOLed in the first weekend again. (Editor's Note: They did complete the revenge tour in full, other than G'Town not showing up for their turn.)

The beating Duke game to get to the Final Four to be two games away was amazing in 1998 as a child in elementary school as a UK fan. Almost more so than the Championship because revenge. I don’t hate UK/LBA as much as most, because external family and having been in their shoes before 2007-08. Heck, during the Battle 4 Atlantis game, they all (save for 1-2 Duke fans) pulled for U of L in that game to beat Duke because THEY STILL HATE DUKE FOR THAT GAME…20 Years later…even after avenging it in 1998 in the sweetest way possible. And they understand my fandom was mostly rooted in getting a full ride to go to school there, though it’s much deeper than that now.

And I’m sure 99% of them will want U of L to win against Duke on Sunday, even if some of them kind of want Wichita State/Michigan/Syracuse to troll us in Atlanta. Such a favor to pull for U of L for me would be nice, because I took one for the team last year for my late Uncle Bish, a big UK and Reds fan who died a few weeks before the NCAAT started. Granted, I was Go Cards all the way until they were eliminated in the semis—I wouldn’t go that far with it. I half-jokingly said that I’d pull for UK for Bish—which was totally serious—but with my luck, they’ll play each other. Lo and behold, they did in the Final Four.

It has been an unforgettable season with only 2 minor blips against Duke sans Gorgui and the twice since avenged 5 OT loss and 1 WTF week of games (Cuse, at Nova, at G’Town) getting in the way of Cards victories. Last game proved they can be vulnerable if the defense slacks, for health reasons or otherwise. Duke is a pretty good team that got shafted in seeding for losing early in the ACC Tournament. No disrespect to Wichita State, Michigan/Florida, or Syracuse and their Booger Picker(s), but the winner of this game is the clear favorite to cut down nets in Atlanta next weekend. [Major hint, it is us, the U of L Cardinals]

Go Cards, keep this up, proud of you no matter what. Make this season, LEGEND—wait for it—DARY by winning #3 to end the 27 year drought. It figured to be a classic game for the ages on paper. It was, though the Ware injury marred it and hate to see that happen to anyone, opponent or favorite team or neutral team. Let’s make sure that this NCAA Tournament won’t leave us wondering why. To quote Robert Kennedy, “Why not?” is what I want to ask after the Final Four and tournament ends after that Duke victory in Indianapolis tonight.

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