The 2014 NCAA Tournament has been great already. Friday in Indianapolis it will be off the charts. Although still underrated nationally, the nation’s best hoops rivalry will have another chapter etched into its historic book. Kentucky and Louisville will square off in the Sweet Sixteen as Duke and North Carolina longingly observe from home.
Before we vault ahead and look forward let’s take a second and look back. Kentucky is coming off of undoubtedly its best game of the season in defeating Wichita State 78-76. It took a complete effort for 40 minutes to knock the Shockers from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The game had that smoking hot electricity right from the start and it lasted the entire game. John Calipari knew it, everyone knew it.
Calipari: “This was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should’ve gone to the Final Four. That’s what this was.”
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 23, 2014
CBS analyst Greg Anthony felt it. There were times that he didn’t even provide any color commentary. He would let out oohs and aahs just like all of the fans. Other times he would simply chuckle as he was marveling at the great plays that were happening before him.
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports who’s been known to take a
swipe, jab, shot, haymaker at Cal was enjoying the display of basketball too.
Good glory. How good is this game?
— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 23, 2014
He went on to give the Shockers, Cal and the Cats props after the game.
Now on to the Cats and Cards. This will be their third meeting in the tournament since 1984, the second in the past three seasons. This game is huge in the regular season, enormous in the tournament. The only way the 2012 game can be eclipsed is if they were to meet in the title game.
There’s the thought that this game could be bigger than the 2012 contest.
Anybody else feel like this UK-UofL game will be bigger than 2012? Lose then, still a great season. Lose Friday, it's a disappointing one.
— Ben Roberts (@NextCats) March 23, 2014
I, for one, just can’t buy that one.
@NextCats Nope. I would've rather lost to Kansas by 50 in the final than lose to U of L in the Final Four that year.
— Vinny Hardy (@VinnyHardy) March 23, 2014
Legendary UK hoops historian and fellow southeastern Kentuckian Oscar Combs got real hypothetical.
ODD THOUGHT: If UK upset UL, but then lost to Tennessee in Elite Eight for Final Four berth, would BBN consider season a success or failure?
— Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) March 24, 2014
When you consider how Kentucky limped into the SEC tournament they have already exceeded expectations for this season if people are being honest.
Unlike 2012 the pressure will be on the Cards this time around. They are the defending champs and the higher seeded team. In 2012 Kentucky entered the dance as the prevailing favorite to win it all. Pressure is squarely on Rick Pitino this time around as well. He is 5-9 (1-5 versus Cal) against UK. There’s no doubt he definitely wants to make that mark a little less one-sided.
The Wichita State game is just what Kentucky needed going forward. They were forced to play a complete game. They overcame nine point deficits in each half. It was a true heavyweight fight. If the Cats had hung their heads and gotten disheartened the Shockers would have continued to go upside their head and blow the game open. Kentucky kept countering and answering each challenge and mounting attacks that forced Wichita State to respond.
All of that will be required again as they face Louisville. There will be high stress moments where they will have to be resilient and find ways to execute. There will be critical free throws that again will have to be made. Kentucky gained valuable experience and now know they are capable of handling these situations better.
Friday night is coming quickly, believe it or not. Indianapolis and the Commonwealth will be on center stage. If this game is half as good as the Wichita State game was it will still be pretty good.