There's Been Something Missing From The Louisville-Kentucky Rivalry

Andy Lyons

Outside of the occasional "they don't even matter" contrarian, Louisville and Kentucky fans are pretty much always willing to thump their chests over the superiority of their rivalry. In fact, just about the only time you ever see red and blue unite these days is when someone notable on social media attempts to claim that there are two fan bases which exist with a higher level of contention between one another.

I've made it pretty well known that I think Louisville/Kentucky is as good as it gets in a number of categories, but the rivalry does have one deep, dark, dirty secret: the games usually aren't all that good.

Part of the reason for this is that the Battle for the Bluegrass typically takes place just six or seven weeks into the season, a time when both teams are still trying to figure out who they are and are not playing their best basketball (and when not all that many people are paying attention). On top of that, I think all the emotion involved with the game, especially in recent years, winds up making it something of an outlier. The fans act differently, the players play differently and the officials call the game differently. Sometimes it leads to things like DeMarcus Cousins being DeMarcus Cousins, and other times it leads to something like the free-throw fest of 2011, which was fun for nobody involved.

The rivalry is big on moments -- 1983, the previously mentioned Cousins incident, Edgar Sosa's shot, Patrick Sparks' free-throws, etc. -- but short on quality, 40-minute basketball games.

If you ask rivalry historians what the best game in the series is, most of them are still probably going to go back to the original Dream Game in '83, which is understandable. The game was played at a high level for 40 minutes and featured a shot at the buzzer to send it to overtime. Still, let's not act like the significance of the game -- which wound up being decided by 12 points -- wasn't more about the off-the-court ramifications than it was what took place on it.

When you look back at the best tilts since then, all of them have pretty large flaws. The "Shot Heard 'Round the Commonwealth" game is probably the most memorable for Louisville fans, but don't forget that Sosa's shot only happened because of an atrocious collapse by the Cards in the final minute when all they needed to do was not turn the ball over. The Sparks game had an equally memorable finish, but was totally forgettable before that. Kentucky only had 16 points at halftime and shot just 32 percent for the game, while Louisville turned the ball over at will in the second half and scored just four points over the game's final six minutes.

The other game that gets tossed around a lot is the 2012 Final Four meeting in New Orleans. While Louisville certainly represented itself well and made things interesting with its big second half run, there was still never really a moment where you didn't think that Kentucky had things under control. They took the Cards' best shot, absorbed it, and won by eight.

There's a similar story for every "great" Louisville/Kentucky game. Last year's game was only decided by three points because of a meaningless three at the buzzer, the huge upset in '97 was won by maybe the worst Cardinal team in the last 30 years, the '87 game (won on a UK tip at the buzzer) was just the second of the season for U of L and elicited the same "I'm happy because we have the chance to be good " talk from Denny Crum that you hear from today's losing coaches after their team falls in December. It goes on and on.

The rivalry has become more nationally known in recent years because of the success of both programs, the Rick Pitino/John Calipari relationship and all the other sexy storylines the media has latched onto. What it needs now to take that next step is a high quality, late in the season, 40-minute thriller that the rest of the country is still talking about the next morning.

Although I'd rather see the Cards win by 30 on Friday night.

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