Epic. Final 4. Showdown

Louisville will face heated rival Kentucky in a Final Four showdown next Saturday in New Orleans. The Wildcats will be the heavy favorites in Big Easy. Can the Cards derail the Calipari Express?

Chris Smith will get his wish of a rematch with hated rival Kentucky next Saturday in New Orleans when the upstart Cardinals face NCAA Tournament favorite Kentucky in the Final Four.

In case you missed it, Smith, Louisville's senior captain, told Chris Dodds of CBSSports.com after the Cardinals come from behind 72-68 win over Florida Saturday in the West Region finals that he wants to exact a little revenge against the Wildcats in the Big Easy.

"We want to play Kentucky for revenge," Smith said. "And they have, what, six or seven pros on their team? If you want to be a pro you've got to beat a pro. Everybody cares, but they're not going to say it. I'm a senior, and I'm going to say it. If I eat my words, I eat my words, but at the end of the day I want to play Kentucky."

Kentucky's win over Baylor Sunday in the South Region final fulfilled Smith's wish to set up an epic clash with the Cardinals in the National Semifinals next Saturday inside the Super Dome. The two teams have met four times before in the NCAA Tournament, including twice in the regional finals (both won by Louisville) and once in the regional semifinals, but never before have the stakes been this high.

The storylines for this Dream Game are endless, but there's one truth that overrides everything else about this game - - the winner will play Ohio State or Kansas next Monday for the NCAA championship.


Louisville will face Kentucky in the Final Four next Saturday in the New Orleans Super Dome.
Kentucky will be a heavy favorite over the Cardinals. The Wildcats enter the game 36-2 and John Calipari's roster resembles an NBA team. All five Kentucky starters are projected as first round NBA Draft picks by NBADraft.net; Darius Miller, the team's invaluable sixth man, is predicted as a second round pick. Those six players helped Kentucky waltz through the South Region and into the Final Four.

Now comes another showdown with Louisville. Kentucky beat Louisville 69-62 in a New Year's eve slugfest at Rupp Arena. Since arriving at Kentucky, Calipari's Wildcats have won three games against Pitino's Cardinals by an average of about 10 points. None of those three games were in doubt in the final minutes.

But if anybody can devise a plan to derail the Calipari Express in New Orleans it's Pitino, a sure-fire Naismith Hall of Fame coach. Pitino will have a full week to plot an overthrow of the heavily favored Wildcats. Pitino is 2-3 in national semifinal games.

Pitino did nothing but praise the Wildcats after beating Florida in Phoenix, Arizona.

"I keep trying to tell our fans, we're not Kentucky, we have no desire to be Kentucky," Pitino said Saturday after guiding Louisville to the Final Four for the first time since 2005.

"We think they're excellent. We think they're great. I coached there. It's great. Great tradition. We want to be Louisville. We have a different mission. They have a different mission. We both want to get to a Final Four and win a championship."

The Commonwealth now holds its collective breath for Saturday's 6 p.m. showdown. The talking heads will all pick Kentucky to win the game. The Wildcats, and Calipari's one and done players, are the heavy favorites. All the pressure this week is on Calipari, who has failed to deliver titles in his first two seasons in Lexington.

For Louisville, the Cardinals have nothing to lose. Rick Pitino's 'college-first' guys are playing with house money. They weren't expected to be here for college basketball's grand finale in the Big Easy. Yet, here they are. Big East champions, winners of eight straight. Louisville, and Pitino, are riding a hot streak - and the Cards are peaking at just the right time.

NC State in 1983? Villanova 1985? Duke 1991? Arizona 1997? UConn 2011? You never know.

"It [will] be wesome for the state," said Pitino. "It would be great for our state. There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us. They've got to put the fences up on bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville.

"I think it's a great honor to play a great team. There's no jealousy on our part… I respect excellence, and they're certainly an excellent ball club."


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