LEXINGTON — If there’s one thing Kentucky coach John Calipari knows he won’t do this week, it’s feed the UK-Louisville rivalry hype.
“Our fans may be. Our fans feed everything. Let me just say this. Our fans eat everything. They are piranhas. If you have an agenda, and you write a story that is agenda-driven, they will take out everything you have written and prove it wrong and then look at your background and look at what you’ve done,” Calipari said Tuesday. “If you are going to attack Kentucky, just be right. If you have an agenda for another coach, to create something, I’m just telling you they are piranhas. They will come and eat your yard, your house. These people are nuts.”
It’s that kind of week as UK¿and Louisville prepare to meet Saturday night in the Final Four in New Orleans with the winner advancing to Monday night’s championship game.
The Wildcats got to the Final Four as a No. 4 seed last year and lost to Connecticut. Calipari admits the Cardinals, also a No. 4 seed, remind him of last year’s UK¿team.
“They stuck together, man, they stuck together. The winds were blowing, and the ship was rocking and the water was coming and they stuck together and they held their ground,” the Kentucky coach said. “That’s why it is going to be a very hard game for us to win. Look, the challenge of it is that they have terrific players that are competitors that play tough and rough and physical.
“They are coached by a guy (Rick Pitino) that has been there before. They are going to be prepared. They have been there before. If you don’t think they are going to be prepared, then you are not thinking right. They will be. It will be a hard game and hopefully they will come in at their best, and we will come in at our best and let’s see what happens.”
Kentucky beat Louisville only 69-62 on Dec. 31 in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats had 21 turnovers in that game. Calipari says while his team has improved, so has Louisville.
“They have really done a terrific job with the big guy (Gorgui Dieng) staying home, blocking shots around the rim, making a couple of 3’s. I don’t know how many he has made on the year, but I have seen two of them today. He is active, he is confident right now and the zone has been good,” Calipari said. “The team that did a pretty good job with it was Florida. Florida challenged them to go man-to-man and they won that game.
“I don’t really think it matters what they play. I think they are going to be aggressive, they are going to be tough, they are going to be up in you, and you have to withstand that. If you can’t you can whine to the officials or not. You have to withstand them attacking you and being aggressive both on offense and defense. If you can do that, now let’s play basketball. If you can’t, it is a hard game to win.”
Kentucky sophomore guard Doron Lamb remembers the first game with Louisville being hard.
“We’re not going to take it as a rivalry game. We’re just going to take it as the next game we play and it’s Louisville, so we have to get prepared for that. We know what they’re going to do to try and beat us, so we’re going to get ready for that,” Lamb said. “It was a hard game the first time. They pressed the whole game. They’ve got great players and they came out there and played hard for 40 minutes. We just ended up winning the game.”
Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague knows he could well be the focal point of Louisville’s aggressive defense, one reason he’s trying to ignore any outside distraction this week.
“It’s been kind of hard with all the fans outside, waiting for us to come out cheering, asking for autographs and telling us to beat Louisville. We just are trying to downplay it and take it like we normally do,” he said. “We know this game will be a lot more intense. It’s the Final Four, so it means that much more with this big rivalry.”
Teague almost went to Louisville before picking the Wildcats. Again, he says that’s not a distraction or problem.
“I am not really worried about it. I am just trying to focus on this and the team so we can do what we got to do to win,” he said.