Can the boyish king cement his place forever in the Kentucky pantheon by taking down the evil former king en route to ending a 14-year drought between national titles?
What will happen throughout the state if the former king somehow takes down the boyish king? Can all the sharp objects be hidden quickly enough if a top-seeded, two-loss Kentucky team somehow loses to a Louisville team that went into the Big East tournament as a No. 7 seed?
All week long, Calipari and Pitino, who first got to know each other almost 30 years ago, have sparred, each making sure not to be openly hostile while the tension has simmered. On Friday, as the four teams went through the required open practices watched by thousands of rapturous Kentucky fans, it was Pitino’s turn to take a few shots at Calipari, even though most of them centered on a preseason quote that Calipari claimed was misinterpreted.
There was also some pregame ref-jockeying. Calipari made a point of letting everyone know that Louisville is a team that likes to take a lot of charges and he expected to see a lot of that in the first few minutes of the game. (Refs, beware — they like to flop!)
Earlier in the week, in the most complimentary terms possible when someone has their tongue in their cheek, Calipari mentioned Louisville’s “scratching, gouging and clawing” when talking about the Cardinals’ defensive style. All with the utmost respect, of course. When that subject came up to Pitino on Friday, he laughed.
“He’s done that since his U-Mass. days when he spoke about our Kentucky team in ’96,” Pitino said, referring to the matchup between Pitino-led Kentucky and Calipari-led Massachusetts in the 1996 Final Four. “He thinks the referees read the newspaper. He thinks the referees stay up at night and listen to Coach Cal’s comments. They really don’t.
“I can play a tape back from [the run-up to the 1996 Final Four] when I was at Kentucky, pretty much the same thing as well. Pretty much the same operating procedure. You don’t have to write it down because you heard it back in ’96.”
No tension there, right?
On the subject of Calipari’s preseason implication that the state of Kentucky was unique because it only has one program, Pitino went into his older-brother routine.
“We have to say so many things in life,” he said. “Every now and then you’re going to say something that’s not correct. At one time [former Kentucky Coach] Eddie Sutton said, ‘We like Louisville, we treat them like a little brother.’