If there’s one thing Kentucky and Louisville fans can agree on, it’s that neither fanbase likes one another. Even when you’re a second-year head coach like Chris Mack is for the No. 3 Cardinals, Kentucky fans will lambaste every misstep. Mack has been a popular figure around the Bluegrass after leading Xavier for nine seasons that included eight trips to the NCAA Tournament before he accepted the job just up the road. But once he suited up for the Red Team, all that affection vanished before the ink could dry up on his new contract.
The Big Blue Nation might not say they dislike Mack straight to face (although I’m sure some already have – or at least tried), but he’s starting to understand that they have already turned on him.
“Rivalries are just that,” Mack said during Friday’s pregame press conference. “You know, there’s familiarity, there’s a desire to win the game. Fan bases hate each other – except for Kentucky’s. They [Kentucky fans] seem to really like me. Everyone I meet always says that they root for me every game but one. So I’m trying to figure out which one that is. But I know that they’re lying when they say that to me.”
Spoiler alert: those fans are most definitely lying.
Mack finished off those last two lines with a sly smirk and audible laughs from members of the media. It’s like he was built for this rivalry. But I wouldn’t expect anything other than a bevy of jeers and boos once Mack and the Cards take the floor on Saturday. This is too big of a matchup for both sides to play nicely.
Lousiville might be one of the top-5 teams in the country, but they haven’t played a program that features the type of athletic freaks Kentucky rolls out on a nightly basis.
“They’re the most athletic team we’ve played,” Mack said. “They can make plays both on and off the ball that are extremely impressive. They strike in transition, they try to turn you over, they obviously have a history of blocking shots and going defense to offense extremely quick.”
Led by point guard Ashton Hagans at the point of attack and center Nick Richards lurking in the paint, Kentucky has allowed just 61.2 points per outing, one of the best marks in the nation. The only time this season that the Cards have failed to top at least 61 points was a 58-43 win over then No. 4 Michigan.
Mack continued on to say that Hagans might be “the most disruptive defensive point guard in the country.”
But Louisville has the experience on its side. Powered by four fifth-year seniors and a slew of juniors including future NBA lottery pick Jordan Nwora, the Cards are as old as they can get at the college level. You have to go down to UL’s seventh man before you find an underclassman in the rotation.
“Experience should help,” Mack said. “But we have to go out and earn it.”
This is much easier said than done, especially considering that one coach has over 10 years of experience with his team while the other is still in the early stages. Cal has been dominating the rivalry since he arrived in Lexington and that didn’t change during Mack’s first season a year ago when the ‘Cats secured a 71-58 victory on the road last December.
Mack’s presence has quieted the Rick Pitino jokes, but he’s kept the Cards in contention without skipping a beat. Kentucky fans don’t really have a reason to hate Chris Mack quite yet. One sure-fire way he can do that is by winning on Saturday.
You can watch/listen below to everything coach Mack had to say about his team and the ‘Cats ahead of Saturday’s meeting at 3:45 p.m. on CBS.