Every year when this game rolls around, I think back to certain moments that stick out from the rivalry. There are just some years that I could not tell you what happened or many details. But then there are some that I can rattle off stats, scores, and details that I have no clue why I remember, but I do. When I started to think of my 5 most memorable moments from the Battle of the Bluegrass, they were not all pro-Louisville moments. And I think that is ok. I was simply trying to think of the 5 that stood out the most, not necessarily the 5 best UofL moments that I could remember. So here are my top 5 most memorable moments of this rivalry:
5) December 27, 1997: Louisville 79 – #4 Kentucky 76
What sticks out to me about this game was that we went into Rupp and had no business making this into a close game. Louisville entered the game with a 3-6 record. Kentucky was 10-1 and coming off of a National Championship appearance and had just won the title in 1996. But Eric Johnson led the Cards with 20 points on 8-10 shooting and they pulled off the major upset. Louisville would go on to finish the season with a 12-20 record. Kentucky finished 35-4 and won the National Championship in Tubby Smith’s first season. That just goes to show you that no matter what the records are or how much of a difference there is in talent heading into the game, anything can happen in this rivalry.
4) March 31, 2012: #1 Kentucky 69 – #17 Louisville 61
This was our game in the Final Four against Kentucky in New Orleans. This one is memorable just because of all the hype and buildup surrounding it. No matter how many times I said it out loud or to myself, I could not believe it: we were going to play Kentucky in the Final Four.
I made the trip to New Orleans with my group of friends that I go to games with and tailgate with for football. We drove through the night on Thursday and got there Friday morning. Friday was awesome. It was my first trip to New Orleans. But what made Friday so cool was that everyone down there was in a good mood. First of all, about 90% of college basketball fans on Bourbon Street were fans of Louisville and Kentucky. It was like Kansas and Ohio State fans weren’t even there. So it felt like the Commonwealth had just taken over. And since our game was Saturday night, everyone could have fun on Friday, and it certainly was.
Saturday during the day was quite a bit more tense. Just walking down the streets, there was a little more hostility than on Friday night when it was all fun and games. We knew it was about to get real that night. I remember walking into the dome and my buddy Chris Tingley and I walked in to see the court before heading up the 75 ramps (felt like) to get to our seats. Both teams were warming up and it just hit us both at the same time: wow this is about to happen. Then there was that moment again when lineups were introduced and during the National Anthem. I tried to soak all of the pregame hype in because I knew it was such a rare thing for this to be going on. Of course we lost that game, but it was just memorable because of what was at stake, and I will never forget being there and taking in those moments.
3) December 18, 2004: #9 Kentucky 60 – #13 Louisville 58
The Patrick Sparks game, enough said…but I guess I will say more. This was one of the most painful games I have ever been to. I didn’t know I had a ticket until that morning. I remember we were leading 32-16 at halftime. Juan Palacios was having a great game until Rajon Rondo poked him in the eye, changing his career forever. Ok so probably not that dramatic, but the goggles just turned him into a different guy, and I have to blame it on someone.
I remember during that last play, Kelenna Azubuike rose up to take a very deep 3 pointer and my thought was “Please shoot that because there is no way you hit it.” Then he passed it off to the corner to Patrick Sparks, who proceeded to do the Cupid Shuffle, the Cha Cha Slide, and the Tootsie Roll before attempting a shot. Of course the rule of the dribble goes out the window in the final seconds, so that was not a necessary basketball move, so he was good to go.
Watching him go to the free throw line with 0.6 seconds left and having that feeling of helplessness was not fun, at all. For the record, I just had to re-watch the last play to make sure I had the 0.6 correct, and when he went to the free throw line, I stopped the video, couldn’t watch it. Ugh! So not a great memory, but a memory nonetheless.
2) January 4, 2009: #18 Louisville 74 – Kentucky 71
The Edgar Sosa game! This is another example of records and talent not mattering. Louisville went on to be the #1 overall seed in the tournament. Kentucky went to the NIT. Yet this game needed an Edgar Sosa 3 at the buzzer for the Cards to win. I was at this game with my mom and we were in her company seats, which were 2 rows behind the UofL bench. Of course somehow, I ended up sitting right next to 2 blue people, but there wasn’t any trouble thankfully.
I was very happy for Edgar to hit that shot because he took a lot of unfair criticism in his time at UofL and I always defended him. So it was really good that he got to have that big moment that no one can ever take from him. Regardless of the fact that Louisville was much more talented, this one was a great ending that I am glad I was there for.
1) January 1, 1995: Louisville 88 – #5 Kentucky 86
I was only 8 years old for this game, yet somehow I always remember the score, the date, and that Samaki Walker was a freshman and got a triple-double this game. I have no idea why, but I will never forget those things. I guess since I always remember those and I was at the game, this one is always hard to move from the #1 spot for me. Samaki Walker finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 blocks as he recorded the first triple-double in UofL history.
This one certainly is not my most memorable because I remember the most from it, because I clearly don’t. Like I said, I was 8. But I can just kind of remember thinking back to those times that Kentucky was dominant and Rick Pitino had all of these great players and they were so good at basketball and we were the nice guys who were trying to pull off the upset against the bad guys. And the longer the game stayed closer, the louder Freedom Hall got. And you know how loud and awesome Freedom Hall could get. So even as an 8 year old, I could grasp what was going on and how special it was. That is why 88-86 on January 1, 1995 will always be in my head. And for that, it deserves to be #1 for me.