Battle of the Bluegrass

We will keep updating this page over the next couple of days up until the UK game on Saturday. We have comments from former players, and some UofL-UK videos to post. So we will just keep this as a running front page and will let you know anytime it gets updated.

Our last UofL-UK interview comes from a player who may have had the best individual performance in the series. As a freshman, Samaki Walker had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 blocks in leading the Cards to an 88-86 win over UK on January 1, 1995. Here is what the game means to him…

CSZ: Samaki, what did this game mean to you?

Samaki: It had its ups and downs. I came in my freshman year and put the triple-double up and was like, “whats all the talk about”, but split my overall series 1-1 with UK because we went to Rupp and got beat the next year. That triple-double is the highlight of my career at Louisville though. I came in after (Clifford) Rozier left and the whole team pretty much was from Kentucky, so I learned fast. There were 8 players from KY, 3 from Illinois, then me and Eric Johnson were from Ohio, so it was a pretty close group geographically. But I didn’t like them (UK) and after that first game, they didn’t like me, I embraced it.
CSZ: With you eluding to the first game being the favorite moment of the series,was the loss your least favorite?
Samaki: Yeah, that loss sucked because I put up 17 (points) and 8 (rebounds) but I turned the ball over a lot because I was nervous. Then I felt rushed because that’s the game (Tony) Delk got off so I played rushed and didn’t keep my composure.
CSZ: Anything you want to say to Card Nation?
Samaki: I know I have had some rough times recently, but from day one you guys have had my back. I appreciate it so much and good luck today! Go Cards!

One of the best leapers to ever play for the Cards, our next piece comes from one of the best of all time. Marques Maybin is the 13th all time leading scorer at UofL, with 1,614 points from 1997-2001. He is 6th all time at UofL for dunks in a career with 95. He gave CSZ a great interview…

CSZ: What does the UL/UK game mean to you?

Marques: My first experience with this rivalry was actually when I came to Louisville for the Derby Classic All-Star game. There was a 2 on 2 tournament for all the players and I had just committed to UL and of course I ended up in a matchup with Ryan Hogan who was headed to UK. I remember watching some of the other players play each other, but it seemed like when our game started, the crowd in Freedom Hall doubled and and the intensity went from 2 to 10 in no time flat. The crowd cheered and booed at every call the referee made and went crazy over every made and missed shot between the two of us. It didn’t take long for me to realize this wasn’t just some small 2 on 2 exhibition. This was about as serious as it could get! Just in case you’re wondering, OF COURSE me and my partner won! Every year since that day the rivalry has gotten more intense!

CSZ: What was your favorite and least favorite moment?

Marques: I was lucky enough to play in this game four times. I ended my career 2 and 2 against them so it’s really difficult to narrow it down to particular moments, but I do have an example of a great moment that turned out not so great. I’m not particularly sure which year it was but I specifically remember the buildup during the week; I remember so many people throughout the city just begging me to dunk on Jamal Maglorie. I heard it over and over again so it was almost like a special request from all of Louisville. The game was televised on CBS so there was extra incentive to “make it happen”. I remember being focused on the game, and thinking about the scouting report during the pre-game handshaking but right before the tip I thought about what everyone had requested and giggled a little bit. It couldn’t have been more than 2 minutes into the game that I caught a breakaway and I saw Maglorie chasing me, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to catch me so I slowed down just a little bit to make sure I could “posterize him“.  I didn’t really think about that moment for the rest of the game, but I remember a few people calling me later that night saying they wished I would have dunked on him, and my response was of course “I did“.  Pretty soon it became apparent to me that CBS hadn’t cut to our game yet so basically it never happened to most of the world (haha). I guess the tree in the forest really doesn’t make a sound!

CSZ: Any additional message to Card Nation?

Marques: I always want everyone in Card Nation to know why I came to UofL. Out of all the other schools I thought about going to, Louisville was the school and fan base that showed the most heart. I think my first 10 games, 7 of them were against top 20 opponents and everyone expected to win no matter what. Rankings didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if the team was young or undersized, there has always been the expectation to play hard and win, (and mix in a little high-flying) while we’re at it! This has been the best decision of my life and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! GO CARDS!

For years, UK would not play UofL in basketball. It basically came down to them thinking they were too good to play a little school in their state. Well, in 1983, they could not avoid us. We met in the Regional Finals in Knoxville, TN. A Final Four birth on the line, and the game would go into overtime. Here is that overtime session! The Dream Game!

The best in the business, Paul Rogers, even chipped in and helped us out with this piece for the website. As the voice of the Cardinals, Rogers has been as much a part of the team as the coaches and players. We were very excited to hear what he had to say…

I really don’t have any really bad memories.  I truly enjoy the game. I guess the closest to a bad memory would be two years ago in Rupp when I felt things got a bit ugly. Some of my best memories would be the Sosa game winner, and the ’97 game when UL won in Lexington. It was by far the Cards best win of a disappointing season and came over a UK team that would go on to win the national championship.

Personally I just love the game, the atmosphere, the passion on both sides. And the fact that for the most part it has been a hard, but cleanly played game between two teams that  have a lot of respect for each other. Probably more respect and less hatred than the fans do, frankly.

If you have been to a game at the KFC Yum! Center or during the last years of Freedom Hall, that voice you hear saying “THREEEEEEEEE ________” is by Sean Moth. He has had a great seat for some awesome UofL games, and we wanted to know what he thought of the UofL-UK rivalry. He didn’t grow up in Kentucky, but with his job, you catch on pretty quickly on the significance of this game.

CSZ: Just wanna know what that game (UL-UK) means to you.

Sean: It is clearly the marquee non-conference game of the year for both teams, and while nobody can deny the impact of the Kentucky Derby, the UofL/UK basketball game is the biggest sporting event in the commonwealth. Having not been born into the rivalry, my perspective on the match-up does not go as far back as most, but it took little time in the Derby City to understand what the game meant to people an both sides of the rivalry. I get excited for every game I work in The Ville, but any time the Cards and Cats meet in any sport, it is a little more special than the others.

CSZ: Best and worst memories?

Sean: All of the games are special regardless of the outcome, but I will never forget the deep three that Edgar Sosa drilled to win the game at Freedom Hall in 2009.

Nate Johnson is one of the best scorers to ever play for UofL. He played for the Cards from 1996-2000 under Denny Crum. He ended his career with 1,513 points. He shared with us his best memories, and something that may surprise you about the players on the teams, at least in his day.

The first thing I want to say is many people think that the Cats and Cards don’t get along. I’m here to tell everyone that we do. Some of the former Cats are close friends of mine. We really want to beat them and they want to beat us like every other game. Just that this one had more hype because it is an in state game. I guess my greatest memory was beating the Cats 2 out of 4 times and I can still remember Freedom Hall jumpin right now. The worst was losing to them the other two times because we clearly had the better teams. I’m lookin forward to watchin the game and cheerin the Cards to victory from Lebanon Beirut. I guess the only other thing to say is lets go C.A.R.D.S Continue to make us proud!

Chris Current played for UofL from 2003-2007 and was on the most recent Final Four team for the Cards. He is from Frankfort, KY, so he knows what the rivalry is all about.

Chris CurrentThe UK game was one of my favorites due to the fact that you throw rankings out the window whenever we played. The crowd and intensity were unparalleled throughout the remainder of the season. My favorite game was my freshman year when we went into Rupp and beat them while they were ranked #2 in the country. My worst moment was watching Patrick Sparks do the shuffle in the corner. Let’s go get this win Card Nation!

Brandon Jenkins played for the Cards from 2003-2007 and was also a member of the last Final Four team for the Cardinals. He talked to us about his best and worst memories:

Man my favorite UL/UK moment was when we upset them in Lexington my freshman year. I actually got in the game and was wearing goggles so I was extra nervous! Lol my worst moment was when we lost at home to KY when Ellis fouled Patrick Sparks on the 3 point line at the end of the game. Coach P went crazy! That might have been my sophomore year.

Perrin Johnson played for UofL from 2003-2007 and was a member of the last Final Four team for the Cardinals. He grew up in California, but his dad is from Campbellsville, KY so he was aware of the rivalry before playing at UofL. We spoke to Perrin about the rivalry…

CSZ: What are your thoughts on the rivalry in general?

Perrin: Well I grew up as a Pitino fan when he was at UK, and I came to UofL because of him. A lot of people are bummed out about the loss to Georgetown, but beating UK would erase that. I want to see us win, and I think we are a better coached team. UK has better potential down the road, but we execute better and are better on defense. UK has great ability, not great defense, but their athleticism can make up for that. They gave up a lot of 3s against UNC and IU.

CSZ: Do the players get into it as much as the fans? Do they understand what it’s about?

Perrin: Players like Darius Miller or Elisha Justice (both from KY) know what it is about coming into it. Guys like Gorgui Dieng or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may not understand before they get to campus. But even if you don’t understand, in a rivalry game, the fans and coaches let you know how serious it is. You can feel the emotions and juice in the arena before the game. It just feels different. Even Peyton Siva (from Seattle) knew Terrence Williams before he came to UofL, so he knew what it would be like.

CSZ:  What are your best and worst memories from the rivalry as a player?

Perrin: My best memory was freshman year. UK was ranked #1, and we beat them at Rupp (65-56 in 2003-2004 season). My worst memory was my sophomore year, when Patrick Sparks traveled and got fouled, and made free throws to beat us.

Here is a video done by Adam Lefkoe of WHAS. A great piece about the rivalry…

We start Friday off with thoughts from former player Brian Kiser. Kiser played from 1992-1996, and ranks 2nd all time at UofL for three-point % in a career at 43%. He grew up in Irvine, KY.

I remember on my recruiting visit, Coach Crum introduced me to Derek Smith. I had no idea who he was, but I could have told you the names of the walk-ons at UK that year. Things soon changed when UofL offered a scholarship. My worst memory of playing against Kentucky was having 6 turnovers against them my senior year, losing in Rupp. My best memory is beating them in Freedom Hall my junior year when Samaki Walker had a triple double. Off the court, it was fun doing FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) stuff with Cameron Mills and Jeff Shepherd.

Here is a youtube video with highlights from the 2003-2004 game at Rupp. A little corny with the music, but we did not make it!

Luuuuuuuuuuuke Whitehead wore the Cardinal uniform from 2000-2004. Another player with over 1,000 points, Luke ended his career with 1,078 points. CSZ asked Luke his thoughts on the rivalry…

As a former player, the game was always the biggest game of the year. It’s a respect & pride game. Every year the fans add so much energy & hype to the game and it really rubs off on the players. There’s a lot of pressure because you know whatever happens, you have to hear about it for a whole year. We lost my first two years, but turned it around and won my last two years so I’m proud to say I left the team in better shape than when i arrived. The only other thing i will say is GO CARDS!

Alhaji Mohammed played for UofL from 2001-2004. He is the younger brother of former Kentucky Wildcat, Nazr Mohammed. Here is what the UofL-UK rivalry means to him:

Playing UK meant so much to me because it meant for that day, everything stopped. It’s RED against Blue. Kids go to bed with their favorite colors on. I get to play the school my brother went to, with the same coach he had. The best memory for me is just getting the chance to play for the best coach in the world. The worst memory is having to watch Coach P dealing with the loss of Billy Minardi. All Louisville fans come follow an old Card on twitter at @alhajimohammed

Alvin Sims played for the Cards from 1993-1997. He is also a member of the 1,000-point club, scoring 1,057 points in his career. Here are his thoughts on the UofL-UK rivalry:

CSZ: As a former Card what does the UofL/UK game mean to you?

Alvin: Biggest game of the year of course. A lot pressure to win. Bragging rights on the line. Both teams’ fans are talking about the game everywhere you go in the state. There was always pressure to play at your best. As a Kentucky native you have to live the series your entire life.
CSZ: What were your best memories?
Alvin: Best memory was the 95 win. My personal best was the 96 game where I was player of the game and dunked on everybody. I think I had 6 dunks.
CSZ: What were your worst?
Alvin: My worst memory was senior year when we were tired, just came off an overtime game against Boston College two days before. I was sick and wasn’t able to play 100%, it was frustrating. We were up at half but lost by 20.

We asked Tony Williams his thoughts on the UofL-UK rivalry. Tony played for the Cards under Denny Crum from 1996-2000. He scored 1,133 points in his career. Since he grew up in Louisville, we asked him who his favorite team was growing up, and what the UofL-UK rivalry meant to him.

   I was never really asked who my team was, it was always pretty much understood. As far back as I can remember, the cups in our house, the blankets we slept in, the jackets, tee-shirts, and car bumper stickers have all been UofL! When I was 7-8 years old, my uncle (Keith Williams) was a Louisville area high school phenom on his way to play point guard for my future coach and Hall of Famer Denny Crum. That ’86 team went on to win it all that year. You can imagine the motivation I had to go outside to the park or the gym to play after seeing #23 LaBradford Smith doing his reverse dunk after a steal or watching Mr. Never Nervous Pervis Ellison actually go up and grab a players shot out of the air instead of blocking it.

Now let’s fast forward ten years later to ’96 where I am a senior at Doss High School and one of the top players in the state of KY. Coach Crum was already very familiar with my family and let’s just be honest, until recent years, if you grew up in Louisville playing basketball, you had a burning desire to one day represent your city by playing for the Cards. The Ville offered me a scholarship and it was a done deal.

In my four short years at the University I was able to split the UofL-UK rivalry 2-2. My freshman year I didn’t play much in the UofL-UK game and we took a loss in Freedom Hall, handed to us by none other than our present Cardinal Coach Rick Pitino. That brings up my worst memory of the rivalry, when a local Louisville native (who really wanted to go to UofL) Derek Anderson dunked on one of my teammates and ran past our bench looking at me and smiling as he knew it was over. UK had smacked us.

The following season I had something to prove as far as the rivalry. I felt like I had let my city down by not being ready to play as a freshman. The hardest part of beating UK this time was that it would be at Rupp. But that, in the end, would make the three point victory even that much sweeter and also being that this UK team would go on to win the NCAA title, meant one thing to Cardinal fan ears: You may be #1 in the country, but UofL was #1 in the State.

The following season (my Junior year) we would play and again beat the Cats again and for the last time in my Cardinal career as they beat us in my senior season at Rupp arena.
One of the best rivalry in college sports!! Let’s go CARDS on New Years 2011 and bring us one game closer to evening this exciting series!

We will kick this off with a youtube clip from January 4, 2009. Enjoy!

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