The only team seen as a challenger to UK that season? That would be Calipari’s Minutemen, owners of an even more impressive 35-1 mark, their only loss coming three games from the end of the season against Atlantic-10 rival George Washington. (It’s interesting to note that Massachusetts’ final regular season win came against none other than Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals.) With the exception of one guy — current Houston Rocket Marcus Camby — the Minutemen were a team made up of guys with few NBA aspirations, a gutsy group which used heart and hard work more than freakish five-star athletic ability to make it to the Final Four.
This semifinal game was the most talked-about of the Final Four, inviting more national attention than either of the potential championship game match-ups. On March 30, the Lexington Herald-Leader had published a 16-page section focused largely on this one game alone. A quote from Pitino, then beloved by UK fans, adorned the top of the front page: “The people in Kentucky love basketball so much … they’re starving for another national championship.” My favorite all-time sportswriter, columnist Chuck Culpepper, wrote, “It is almost inconceivable Kentucky will lose tonight. It is almost inconceivable Massachusetts will lose tonight. … This thing is as tossed as any toss-up can be. It can make a mind do gymnastics. It is time to play this game.” The hyperbole was turned all the way up to 11.
Any of this sounding familiar yet, people of 2012?
A semifinal game which overshadows the main event, featuring a Kentucky team with NBA dreams vs. one that overachieved, and a UK team that had two losses (one in the conference tournament finals) with Pitino and Calipari as the coaches, set in a place with a name that begins with the word “New.”