(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – What a difference a year makes. This time last year, immediately after Louisville upended Kentucky 73-70 in their annual Armageddon basketball showdown, Rick Pitino was toasting himself in his palatial YUM Center media room, basking in a rare conquest over his arch nemesis, John Calipari. Pitino was nearly giddy with ecstasy, admitting to reporters how great this win felt after being dominated so long by the blue-clad mongrel hordes from seventy miles up the Interstate. Although it took Quentin Snider’s game-of-his-life to pull the Cardinals through, this was supposedly a season defining victory that would propel the Cards on to another championship banner, and Pitino to sainthood status within the River City.
Almost exactly one year later, as the Wildcats and Cardinals prepare for another hard-fought Battle of the Bluegrass, times have definitely changed. Pitino now finds himself engaged in an ugly lawsuit with his former employer, having been abruptly fired from his dream job for conduct unbecoming of a leader of young men. Marital infidelity, strippers in Minardi Hall, and bribes to shoe companies have banished traitor Rick hundreds of miles away from the state upon which he so pompously preyed. Meanwhile, Coach Cal prepares to light up another victory cigar, once again rekindling the domination of his Wildcats over their petulant little brother.
I’ll be completely honest, though, I already miss Rick Pitino. I miss his demonic scowl, the spittle flying from his lips, and his deathly pale countenance as he prances along the Rupp Arena sidelines. I miss him and his custom Armani suits, the brazenly red tie, and his perfectly dyed hair yelling animatedly at his minions while condescendingly berating the men in striped shirts. After another devastating loss, there’s something gratifying about watching his obligatory post-game handshake with Calipari—envy, resentment, and bitterness oozing out from every one of his jealous pores. In fact, I miss all the vitriol, venom, and vindictiveness suddenly absent from one of the best rivalries in college basketball. Because without Rick as the villain, you simply can’t hate Louisville anymore.
You can’t hate interim U of L head coach David Padgett either. At this point in the season, he might as well be Scott Padgett. I’m sure he’s a decent coach, but he’s no crypt keeper. He hasn’t snobbishly mocked Kentucky fans while flipping off an entire BBN on his way out of Rupp. He hasn’t showered his team with outlandish hyperbole while simultaneously dissing the city of Lexington, its working-class citizens, and its entire restaurant scene. He hasn’t come close to mimicking his predecessor by sweating through a gaudy white suit or squeezing into a skin-tight shirt and making a bon-a-fide mockery of himself. Bravo Pitino he’s not.
Let’s all face it–a victory over the Cardinals just won’t be the same without Rick. It won’t be as satisfying because it just won’t be as personal. In past years, when the Wildcats won, it was more or less a vindicating coronation—a validation that good still can triumph over evil. This year, a win will still be nice, it just won’t be totally fulfilling. It’ll be more like an appetizer in preparation for your football cousin’s main course later in the day down in Nashville.
After the disappointing performance in their loss to UCLA though, a Kentucky victory over Louisville suddenly takes on added significance. Coach Cal warned everyone in his post-game presser that, if his team plays like they did against the Bruins, the Wildcats could possibly lose their next four or five in a row. If that does indeed happen, then we’re talking about a marginal team destined for the NCAA bubble. Now’s the time to right the ship, build up some confidence, and go on a nice little mid-year run. It all begins this Friday at Rupp with a big victory over the Louisville Cardinals. It’s just a dad-gum shame that Rick Pitino won’t be there to experience the pain.
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