Duke and Kentucky have a history that goes back to the Southern Conference. When the SEC started up in 1932, they played less often but still played. Both teams made the Final Four in 1966 but Kentucky beat Duke and got the booby prize of playing Texas Western as the poster child of segregated southern sports (Duke had its first Black player, freshman CB Claiborne, but he was a freshman and ineligible, and was also technically a walk-on).
Then of course the teams played in the 1978 Finals.
But it was Christian Laettner in 1992 who put the rivalry on a different level. Kentucky had the Unforgettables, Rick Pitino’s magnificent group of overachievers. Laettner first infuriated the Kentucky faithful by tapping on Aminu Timberlake’s chest (it was clearly not a stomp, as UK fans have always said, and you can tell because Timberlake clapped and laughed after Laettner was hit with a technical).
And then of course he hit his magnificent game winner, permanently scarring BBN.
They’ve never gotten over it.
In this article, Lexington columnist Mark Story suggests they should because since Mike Krzyzewski has retired Duke, he thinks, is over.
Well, maybe, maybe not.
Not to be churlish, but Kentucky has skidded much farther than Duke has, and that’s with John Calipari still roaming the sidelines of Rupp Arena.
Prior to this past spring’s tournament, Kentucky hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2018-19.
In fairness, the 2019-20 tournament was canceled due to Covid. But after that, Kentucky finished 8-9, 26-8 and 22-12 with just one NCAA tournament win. And even last season, the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament and then fell to Kansas State in the round of 32 the following weekend.
Story suggests that Kentucky fans should be more concerned with Kansas since Bill Self is seen by many as the best coach in college after Coach K retired, but it’s Kentucky fans that have been unhappy with their coach, not Duke’s.
It’s probably nice to think that the Scourge of Krzyzewski is over, and maybe it is. It’s also possible that the Age of Scheyer is going to be special in its own right.
But when your fans have been upset with your team for several years and one of your main donors has been on the outs with your coach, perhaps you’re looking at the wrong side of the rivalry.
Laettner got so far inside of BBN’s collective head that they may never get him out.