With all the hype that’s surrounded Saturday’s matchup between Kentucky and Louisville, it’s been almost impressive that one has called this year’s version of the annual meeting between the no. 4 Cardinals and the no. 1 Wildcats the biggest in the rivalry’s history. It can be argued either way, that it is or isn’t.
But no matter which way you look at it, one aspects of the game remain important over everything: This is the last foreseeable major obstacle for Kentucky which could keep them from at least a perfect regular season.
In the modern history of this rivalry (it was played consistently and 1913-22 and in 1948, 1951 and 1959. But was started again on a yearly basis when the two teams met in the Mideast Regional final of the 1983 NCAA Tournament), there have been an incredible amount of great moments and stunning games. Back And Forth did the digging and came up with the Top 5 moments from the UK/UofL rivalry.
5.) Samaki Walker Goes For a Triple-Double – Jan. 1, 1995
On New Year’s Day ’95, Samaki Walker, a future Top 10 pick in the NBA Draft, gave a performance those in the rivalry are still talking about.
With the Cardinals taking on the no. 5 Wildcats in Freedom Hall in Louisville, Walker recorded the first triple-double in school history with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks as UofL won 88-86. The game was close throughout, as Tony Delk dropped in a game-high 23 points for the Wildcats.
Much like two years later (as you’ll see lower in the column), Kentucky fans would get a measure of satisfaction at the end of the season, as then-coach Rick Pitino (which is still hard for some UK fans to stomach) would lead Kentucky to their first national title in 18 years later that season.
4.) Patrick Sparks Draws The Line – Dec. 21, 2004
Patrick Sparks wasn’t even recruited by Kentucky out of high school (he transferred there after two seasons at Western Kentucky) but he made his mark on the Wildcats with his performance – mainly with 0.6 seconds left – against Louisville in 2004.
Sparks scored 12 second half points for the no. 11 Wildcats to keep them steady with the no. 14 Cardinals, and got his chance to etch his name into the rivalry’s lore when he inbounded the ball with Kentucky down 58-57 with 4.8 seconds left. The Central City, Ky. native got the ball to Kelenna Azubuike, who drew three defenders and passed it back to Sparks for a three-pointer from the baseline corner.
Sparks pump-faked, catching a charging Ellis Myles in the air as Sparks jumped into the air (though a large portion of the UofL fanbase will argue he walked in the process) and drew the foul on Myles. A visit to the monitor confirmed the officials’ call and Sparks hit all three free throws for a 60-58 UK victory.
3.) UofL Stuns No. 3 Kentucky – Dec. 26, 1997
It’s one of those games no one around the state (or rivalry in general) saw coming.
UK was ranked no. 4 in the nation and on their way to the program’s seventh national title – and second in three seasons – while UofL was struggling towards the end of the Denny Crum era (they wouldn’t when 20 games in a season in his last four years as coach) and would end the year 12-20. But first they had to go to Rupp Arena in Lexington and take on UK, who had already beaten three Top 25 teams that season, their lone loss coming to then-no.1 Arizona in the Maui Invitational.
The Cardinals didn’t have a single player on their roster over 6-foot-7, and were playing the Wildcats’ arsenal of future pros including Scott Padgett, Jamaal Magloire and Nazr Muhammed. It didn’t matter. Louisville hit 12-of-22 threes, held Padgett to 7 points and UK to 5-for-23 from three-point range, and got 20 points from Eric Johnson to pull the 79-76 shocker.
2.) Aaron Harrison Starts His Shooting Spree – March 28, 2014
In the previous three seasons, the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry has jumped up considerably with the high level of play from both programs – they’ve combined for two national championships and three Final Fours. The fact that the schools have met in two of the last three seasons in the NCAA Tournament hasn’t hurt, either.
Last year, the Cardinals came in as the favorite, a no. 4 seed playing against the 8-seed Wildcats, who were riding the momentum of their win over previously undefeated Wichita State in what is known by many as the college basketball game of the year for 2013-14.
The game was close throughout, but Aaron Harrison opened what became his legendary string of game-winning shots with his left-corner three with 39.1 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 70-68 lead. UK would go on to win 74-69 and end their season with a loss in the national title game to UConn.
1.) Lou-Orleans v. Blue-Orleans – March 31, 2012
For Louisville and Kentucky fans, it was the pinnacle of the rivalry’s stage. The two storied college basketball programs from the Bluegrass State playing for the right to play in the national championship game in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Kentucky rolled through the regular season (including a 69-62 victory over then no. 4-Louisville on Dec. 31) at 36-2 at the time, grabbing the no. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville made a run to the Final Four as a no. 4 seed and an upset of no. 1 seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats led 35-28 at halftime and the Cardinals tied the game at 49-49 on Peyton Siva’s three with 9:11 to play in the game. But future no. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis went for 18 points and 14 rebounds while Big Blue shot 57.1 percent overall and held the Cardinals to 34.8 percent from the field. Louisville actually out-rebounded the Wildcats 37-32, but Siva led UofL with 11 points as Kentucky’s talent proved to be superior.
So no matter if you agree with this list or not, it’s probably not up for debate that given recent history with this rivalry (this moment, this moment and this moment get honorable mentions nods), people can expect to see something during the game that they’ll remember for years down the road. It’s what makes this rivalry great, and arguably the best in college basketball.
David Harten runs The Backboard Chronicles. Find him on Twitter at @David_Harten.