So...this is a day I will take a few liberties with my "Louisville Real Estate Blog" and focus on the task at hand: The Louisville Cardinals' bid(s) to win the NCAA Basketball Championship(s). That's right, there are two opportunities for Louisville to win the NCAA basketball championship. One for the men, which will occur tonight at around 9:23 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time against the Michigan Wolverines at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and the Lady Cards will get their shot tomorrow night in New Orleans versus the vaunted UConn Huskies.
I must say, I've not ever been much of a women's basketball fan, and I won't pretend and say that I am now, but the thought of both the men & the women winning the national title during the same year is exciting.
But mainly, I recall the Louisville men's team's last NCAA final in 1986 against the hated Duke Blue Devils. I was not quite 10 years old. Since it was a school night, I was not allowed to stay up and watch the game. I remember telling my parents to let me know the next day who won. At this point in my life, I was beginning to grow interested in sports in terms of enjoying them as a spectator. I joke that I must have chosen all of my favorite teams in 1986 since, despite living in Elizabethtown, Kentucky at that time (EVERYBODY knows nobody OUTSIDE of Jefferson County could be anything BUT a Kentucky Wildcats fan, right? Wrong!), I became a Louisville Cardinals fan, and I've never ever thought about being anything else. That night in Dallas, Louisville defeated Duke 72-69, and I was absolutely hooked from then on. To say I like to watch sports is quite an understatement. I often say, "I don't watch TV, I watch sports."
The problem is, since 1986, Louisville Cardinals basketball Fans have not had that sort of moment to cheer about since then. Certainly, I have many fond moments of the Cards in the late '80s with a couple more trips to the Sweet 16 and Pervis Ellison's selection #1 overall in the 1989 NBA Draft, but nothing close to the Final 4 or NCAA Championship. Denny Crum had been the coaching star of the 1980s, and the Louisville Cardinals were arguably the team of that decade with two NCAA championships and four Final Four appearances, but the 1990s seemed to come and go without much excitement. Don't get me wrong, if you live in Kentucky, basketball season is always a topic of conversation. Louisville and Kentucky fans are constantly debating in-state supremacy.
Louisville's early '90s struggles weren't quite as noticeable due to Kentucky's probation and scandals. But then Rick Pitino came to town, and began succeeding. By 1996, Pitino had brought an NCAA championship to Lexington, then made a second straight championship game trip in 1997 before bolting "Camelot" for the NBA's Boston Celtics.
As Crum continued to struggle, and Louisville became mired in mediocrity, save the billiance of DeJuan Wheat, Alvin Sims, and Greg Minor, and Pitino's pro coaching bid began to unravel, the year 2001 was pivotal in the Louisville versus Kentucky basketball landscape as Pitino left Boston for Louisville, causing Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich to become a household name.
Even still, since that hire, which was monumental in so many ways, Louisville and Kentucky went through ups and downs. Louisville's 2005 Final Four was a great accomplishment and proof that Pitino had yet again resurrected a program to great heights, yet the following year, Louisville found itself in the NIT, and the luster was not quite as shiny.
Kentucky was good but not great in the early 2000s. Tubby Smith won a title in 1998, and always had the Wildcats playing well, but not exciting and never back to the championship. Enter John Calipari, and now the Louisville vs. Kentucky rivalry has no equals (of course, those of us who know, have always thought this).
On the heels of Kentucky's 2012 Championship, I can say that Louisville fans have been waiting for this year for more than a year, and this we believe is our year. So whatever happens tonight, it's incredible to be back in the championship game, and I will stay awake for it in hopes that we will bring the championship back to Louisville! Go Cards!