Since the bulk of this week’s Final Four coverage will center on the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry and the Calipari-Pitino rivalry and relationship, I figured I may as well get in on the act.
First, let’s look at the series history between these two schools, which isn’t as extensive as you might assume.
The History of the Kentucky-Louisville Rivalry
The two rivals played nine times between 1913 and 1922, with Kentucky winning seven of those matchups. For the next 60 years though, the teams met just three times, none of which came in the regular season.
According to an extensive writeup of the series on Big Blue History, Adolph Rupp’s arrival in 1930 played a key role in what amounted to a suspension of the series. In Rupp’s view, a focus on local rivalries worked in stark contrast to his vision of solidifying UK as a national fixture in the college basketball world.
Interestingly enough, the next game between the two schools came in March of 1948 as part of the United States Olympic Trials. Essentially the plan was to invite the top collegiate and independent teams to compete in a tournament, at the end of which the best players from the finalists would be merged along with other top players from participating teams to form the U.S. Olympic Team.
The next three meetings between Kentucky and Louisville all came in the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight matchup in 1983, which was also known as the “Dream Game.” The Cardinals won that game to advance to the Final Four, while Kentucky still held a 9-4 series edge.
Following that matchup, there was substantial pressure to establish a season series between the Cards and Cats, to the point where state legislators were reportedly ready to step in. The two teams started their annual meetings in November of 1983, and the fourth (and most recent) NCAA Tournament matchup came the following March, when Kentucky defeated Louisville by five points in the Sweet Sixteen.
Since the renewal of the annual meeting between the Wildcats and Cardinals, Kentucky has won 20 of the 31 meetings. Over that span, the longest winning streak for Kentucky has been four games from 1990-1993, while the Cardinals have never won more than two straight meetings, which they have done four times since 1983, most recently from 2008-2009.
In all, the schools have met four times in the NCAA Tournament, with each team winning twice, and Saturday’s meeting will be the first of those matchups to take place in the Final Four.
If you look at margin of victory, Kentucky’s largest was 34 points, which the Wildcats achieved twice – once in the matchup as part of the Olympic Trials mentioned above and the other in December of 1986. For Louisville, its largest margin of victory was 22 points on New Year’s Eve in 1988.
Ten games have been decided by five points or less with Kentucky holding a 7-3 edge in those contests, while if you look at games decided by three points or less, the series is tied 3-3.
In terms of recent history, John Calipari and the Wildcats have won all three meetings since he took the helm. As for Rick Pitino, he was 6-2 against Louisville as the coach of Kentucky, but he is only 4-7 versus Kentucky as the coach of Louisville.
That’s probably a good segue to the coaching matchup, where things are even at eight wins each.