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Big Blue Immolation

When it comes to Kentucky, this year has been great for the ACC

Chris Carrawell
Chris Carrawell shoots over Kentucky’s Scott Padgett

Now that Louisville is in the ACC, the league is guaranteed at least one game annually against Kentucky. Well, given the history of the series, almost guaranteed.

Not to worry. The rest of the ACC has stepped up. The Louisville-Kentucky game this past weekend marked the fourth straight time an ACC club faced UK in 2020-21, a record total for a single season. The Cardinals also notched the ACC’s fourth straight win.

Louisville may be Kentucky’s archrival, but their regular-season meetings are a relatively recent development. To put the timing in perspective, they began their annual series several years after Georgia Tech became the eighth member of the ACC.

In a bit of doctrinaire stubbornness, Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall, his successor and former player, refused for decades to schedule in-state opponents. Particularly upstart Louisville. One suspects Rupp got the idea for the scheduling prohibition from his coach at Kansas, Phog Allen. Dean Smith, another Allen disciple, similarly eschewed facing North Carolina schools while coaching at UNC. No sense in taking on teams for which you were a season-making target, went the reasoning.

The NCAA, always hungry for edgy matchups to boost TV ratings, kept attempting to arrange UK-UL clashes during postseason play but they rarely came off. Left to their own volition, or rather Kentucky’s, the schools didn’t meet in regular-season play between Jan. 1922 and Nov. 1983, a drought perhaps ended in part by political pressure. Kentucky governor John Y. Brown Jr., who served from 1979-83 and is best known for building Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) into a restaurant empire, jokingly called the impetus for the coming-together “the greatest achievement of my administration.”

The now-familiar rivals, situated an hour’s drive apart, have played every year since the 1983-84 season in what boosters call the best rivalry in college ball. This will come as news to observers of the Duke-UNC series. Each set of archrivals did combine for 11 NCAA titles, though one for Louisville (2013) was vacated. Also, that long hiatus in competition seriously compromises the enduring power of the UK-UL matchups, as does their lesser consistency in maintaining high profiles in the Associated Press poll across the decades.

Maybe Louisville-Kentucky should settle for claiming the country’s best cross-conference rivalry.

There was a kerfluffle prior to this season over where Saturday’s game would be played. In what was at first glance an odd role reversal, the Cards’ Chris Mack advocated for a neutral site while John Calipari insisted the game occur at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Mack was concerned his team would lose the home crowd advantage in this COVID season while presumably returning the visit to Lexington in 2021-22.

“Where is the equity of Kentucky coming here in front of no fans and then having to go back to Rupp Arena in front of 21,00 fans?” asked Mack.

Calipari wasn’t moved, and neither was the game. A crowd of 3,281 attended at Yum!, 15 percent of capacity.

At least the Cardinals didn’t have to carry alone the banner of their newly-adopted conference. The program with the most wins in college history, the enduring cream of the SEC, apparently has recognized that if it seeks top-notch competition during the regular season the ACC is a good place to turn.

And, until 2020-21, to gain wins.

This is the fourth season in the last seven, and seventh in the last 24, Kentucky has faced at least three ACC members (active, not prospective). Prior to this month the ‘Cats had won 12 of their last 15 games against ACC teams. They’ve now won 21 of 40 against ACC opposition in the 21st century.

This year, though, first Georgia Tech, then Notre Dame and finally North Carolina topped UK before the bluebloods of the bluegrass fell to Louisville.

The UNC meeting was its 41st with Kentucky, 19th in the last 21 years. The Tar Heels played Kentucky annually from 2001 through 2012 and essentially every other year since, compiling 25 wins overall.

Louisville has now played Kentucky 53 times since they first met in 1913, and has lost twice as much as it’s won, this year’s 62-59 triumph notwithstanding.

Kentucky Versus Active ACC Members, This Century
(Listed By Order Of Play During Season)
Season ACC W/L Opponents
2021 4-0 Georgia Tech (W)
Notre Dame (W)
North Carolina (W)
2020 0-2 Georgia Tech (L)
Louisville (L)
2019 1-2 Duke (W)
North Carolina (L)
Louisville (L)
2018 0-2 Virginia Tech (L)
Louisville (L)
2017 2-1 North Carolina (L)
Louisville (W)
North Carolina (W)
2016 0-2 Duke (L)
Louisville (L)
2015 0-3 North Carolina (L)
Louisville (L)
Notre Dame (L)
2014 1-0 North Carolina (W)
2013 1-1 Duke (W)
Maryland (L)
2012 0-1 North Carolina (L)
2011 1-1 North Carolina (W)
North Carolina (L)
2010 0-2 North Carolina (L)
Wake Forest (L)
2009 2-0 North Carolina (W)
Miami (W)
2008 1-0 North Carolina (W)
2007 1-0 North Carolina (W)
2006 1-0 North Carolina (W)
2005 1-0 North Carolina (W)
2004 0-1 North Carolina (L)
2003 0-1 North Carolina (L)
2002 2-1 North Carolina (L)
Duke (W)
Maryland (W)
2001 1-1 North Carolina (L)
Georgia Tech (W)