Most of the talk last night after the game and today on our radio show was about the extracurricular activities by both teams both pre-game and in the first minute. What has been lost in all of this conversation is that most people dont even know the full extent of what happened, because they only saw what was on television. A quick rundown, in case you only saw the CBS version:
1. During warmups, as both teams did their layup lines, there was a lot of talking from the UL side to the UK guys. Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Reginald Delk were yelling at various UK players, specifically Bledsoe and Cousins, and letting them know that they would be ready to play. Smith even had a couple of instances in which he would run around and through the UK line in order to get into the UL line.
2. After the national anthem, both teams jawed a bit and a couple of the UL players walked by Cousins and “rubbed” their shoulders against him. The last UL player to do it got a little shove from Cousins and that was that.
3. I did not see this, but a couple of people have reported that there was some jawing between the two teams behind the scenes right before the introductions. Calipari referred to it a bit in his press conference and Mary Jo Perino said in a Tweet that the Louisville players were screaming “We are Bad M’Fers” in the hallway.
4. During introductions, the Louisville players didnt “run out” as usual, but stayed in a huddle while their names were called. As both teams came on the floor for the tip, Smith, Sosa, Wall and Bledsoe had some nice words for each other.
5. After the first little incident with Bledsoe and Delk, people didnt see on television that Edgar Sosa looked towards the UK crowd and started waving at the fans and telling them to “bring it on”, while Bledsoe said some things to Delk that likely werent fit for print.
6. Then of course came the Cousins/Swopshire incident that we have heard a lot about. The picture below shows that Cousins did take a knee to the head from Swopshire before he have his elbow/forearm to the back of Swop’s head.
I give all of this not to condone it (although I did think it made the game filled with great intensity) but to suggest that any evaluation of the actions should be looked at in the greater context of the entire game. From the get go, it was clear that Louisville’s plan was to get into the heads of the UK players and try to make them angry and frustrated. They talked from the moment they walked on the court and focused on the two guys with the shortest tempers, Cousins and Bledsoe. That wasnt accidental. It was on purpose.
I dont blame them for that strategy. It was a smart one and will be used again against the Cats. But when evaluating the Cousins elbow, it is important to realize that it didnt happen on a clean slate against a bunch of choir boys. Louisville had been picking at the Cats and Swopshire had a second before, kneed Cousins in the head. Now I am not certain the Swopshire knee was intentional (I would guess it was not), but Cousins couldnt know that and in the heat of battle, things happen. That is why I think the reaction by the referees was correct…give him a technical, but let him stay in the game. Unlike the announcers, the referees had seen (and heard) the pre-game jawing and knew what was going on. They knew context and knew that Cousins’s reaction was part of a series of actions that had taken place. That is why they made the correct (and one of the few correct they made all day) decisions to give him a technical and move on.
Ultimately the pre-game stuff may have backfired on the Cards. It certainly had UK focused and realizing the battle that was to come. But I actually dont blame either team for what happened and think the fans who crow about the “other team’s players being thugs” are really ridiculous. Both teams talked trash, both teams played hard (and scrappy) and both teams acted at times like it was a battle and not a game. That is the stuff of rivalries and yesterday was another great chapter in this one.