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December 30, 2011
For some Cats, Saturday is first taste of 'Dream Game'
This wasn't appointment television for Anthony Davis.
The Kentucky freshman grew up in Chicago. That's Bulls territory, an NBA town. Kentucky and Louisville? Barely on the radar.
"I just never watched it," Davis said Friday. "I was aware (of the game). A lot of people talked about it, even when I was being recruited, a lot of people was talking about the game."
Davis gets his first taste of the Wildcats-Cardinals rivalry on Saturday, when No. 3 Kentucky (12-1) hosts No. 4 Louisville (12-1) at Rupp Arena in the schools' first-ever meeting as top-five teams.
But Davis - like most of his UK teammates - didn't grow up dreaming of the "Dream Game." He's relied on fans' feedback to try and grasp the significance of Saturday's game.
"I got a lot of tweets about 'Beat Louisville, they suck' and everything about that," Davis said. "We're guessing it's a big deal for (the fans)."
For Davis, it's only a guess.
Doron Lamb knows for sure, but he didn't always. The UK sophomore is a Queens, N.Y., native who'd been told upon his arrival that the Cats-Cards rivalry was more than just a game. He had to play in one to understand.
"I didn't know it was a big game like this, though, really," Lamb said. "But now I know it's a big game for our fans and their fans. We've got to win this game for our fans and for us, for the season."
But the party line at UK is that this is just another game.
Lamb said it. Davis stressed it. Even Kentuckian Darius Miller said it's important not to get too caught up in the rivalry.
UK coach John Calipari underscored the importance of that idea by invoking a rivalry to the north that earlier this month capped its most recent renewal with an on-court brawl.
"What I say to you is that I don't have any ill will or anything like that," Calipari said. "There is not ever, from my side, going to be a Cincinnati-Xavier. That won't come from us. Our team does not feel any hatred or animosity toward their players. We do not. We do not talk that way or play that way. It will be a terrific basketball game of teams going at each other with all the bells and whistles."
Regardless of the ill will - and there was plenty in the building when the Cards last visited Rupp Arena in 2009 - the game is significant.
For Louisville, it's a chance to knock off a top 10 team for the first time this season. For Kentucky, it's the first opportunity since a loss at Indiana to take down a top-flight opponent.
But it's neither team's first high-profile matchup. And Calipari maintains that he won't treat it differently than any other game on the schedule
"Our guys would tell you we have not played this game any differently than we have any other game," Calipari said. "Obviously, for our fans and their fans it's an enormous game. For our team it's the next game, and we hope we play well, but they're good. They're a good team."
And the game means little more than a crack at another good team, Calipari said, downplaying the significance of the rivalry.
"It's two different programs and two different leagues," Calipari said. "We're not really recruiting against each other. It's just this one time and our fans are going to be happy or their fans are going to be happy, and that's it. As far as our team, I'm telling you, we respect them. Our players do not have animosity or hatred. They may know some of them. They don't know others, their players. It's just two teams that are relatively close to each other."