NEW ORLEANS — Louisville coach Rick Pitino is taking a stance that will probably make some Cardinals fans cringe: He’s backing Kentucky in the NCAA championship game against Kansas.
Shortly after fourth-seeded Louisville lost 69-61 to the top-seeded Wildcats in the Final Four on Saturday night, Pitino said he hopes coach John Calipari and the Wildcats “bring it home for the state.”
“I just said, ‘John, I’ll be pulling for you, bring the trophy back home to Kentucky,’” Pitino said. “Louisville will be rooting for Kentucky, which doesn’t happen very often.”
Pitino said he’s well aware of the animosity fans of both teams have for one another and even made reference to a story about elderly dialysis patients who got into a fist fight over the rivalry back in Georgetown, Ky.
“Sometimes there’s a lot of talk about these guys fighting, dialysis, there’s also really a lot of people that get along,” said Pitino, who also coached at Kentucky in the 1990s and led the Wildcats to a national title in 1996. “In every society there are people without brains. But for those that have brains, they get along, they root for each other.”
There is a long history of mutual dislike among the two biggest basketball programs in the Bluegrass State.
Louisville faithful long resented Kentucky for refusing to play other teams from within the state under legendary head coach Adolph Rupp, and his successor, former assistant Joe B. Hall.
It took Gov. John Y. Brown stepping in following their matchup in the 1983 NCAA Mideast Regional finals — then the teams’ first meeting since 1959 — to get the rival programs to start scheduling each other annually.
The two teams have combined for nine national titles, seven by Kentucky. The Wildcats have now also improved to 30-14 in head-to-head meetings with the Cardinals dating to 1913.
Pitino said he’d be lying if he said he liked every Kentucky team he has faced, but he had only good things to say about this season’s squad that includes projected first-round NBA draft picks such as Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones.
“I’m really impressed with them, not only as basketball players, the way they carry themselves, their attitude,” Pitino said. “They’re a great group of guys doing a tremendous job.”