In the overall impact on the season, Wednesday night's meeting between Louisville and Kentucky wasn't a must-win situation. Win or lose, both programs still have an opportunity to excel in conference play and make a significant run at the National Championship.
That being said, among the faithful for both programs, throughout the Bluegrass State and across the globe, the game is considered a must win. Bragging rights with family, friends and co-workers are a vital element of daily life for most that reside with the state's border.
For the Cardinal fans, the ability to stick out one's chest for their team's basketball victory has been a rare moment in recent history, so when the final horn sounded at the sold-out KFC Yum! Center signaling a 73-70 Louisville victory most of the 22,783 fans remained in their seats to enjoy the moment.
"Everybody lives for this game," U of L head coach Rick Pitino said when asked about the series being the best college basketball rivalry in the nation. "This is it for us. We've got no professional teams and this is it. They've dominated us for a while now so it's good to get a victory."
Following back-to-back wins in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Louisville has struggled to defeat their most notable rival. A lone 80-77 home victory by U of L's 2013 NCAA Championship squad split a pair of four-game winning streaks for the Wildcats. Eight of the last nine meetings, which have included a meeting in the 2012 Final Four and the 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional, have belonged to Kentucky.
It's not that the game hasn't been competitive. U of L's average margin of defeat in those eight losses has been just 7.6, but as the program's Hall of Fame coach pointed out on Wednesday night, close doesn't matter.
"They dominated us—somebody said you've played all these games and it has been decided by less than 10 points and I said that's not the way it works in basketball," he said. "You lose you lose, whether it is 2 points or 9."
This time, the first since Dec. 29, 2012, the script has been flipped due in large part to the performance of hometown product Quentin Snider. The junior guard entered the contest as a secondary story behind the headline grabbing freshman guards from Kentucky. However, it was Snider that led his team to victory by pouring in a career-high 22 points, to go with his six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Asked during his post-game press conference if being a local product helped ignite Snider's play, Pitino indicated he was unsure, stating "you'll have to ask him that."
Surrounded by media in the U of L locker room immediately following the game, Snider, wearing a Santa Claus hat, wished everyone Merry Christmas and didn't hesitate to confirm the importance of the game.
"Yeah, that was big," Snider said. "It means a lot to me. It's really special to me."
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It's big to the entire L1C4 nation, as for the first time in four years the Card Nation is able to celebrate a victory in the game's top rivalry.