LEXINGTON, Ky. » It’s Kentucky and Louisville, one more time.
One of college basketball’s fiercest rivalries takes center stage Friday night, when the Wildcats and defending national champion Cardinals meet in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis. The Bluegrass State showdown will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Colts, which will be configured to hold 35,000 basketball fans.
Those seats will be filled with fans clad in blue and red gear, many of whom will make a 3-hour drive for a game they wouldn’t dare miss.
The schools have won the past two NCAA championships and are playing their best basketball of the season right now. Both fan bases expected their teams to reach the Midwest Regional semifinal, and they also expect their schools to advance.
"I know one thing, Lucas Oil Stadium is going to have 45,000 to 50,000 people there," said Kentucky season-ticket holder Bob Baldwin, who plans on attending the game. "Even though it’s not set up for the whole gig like it was three to four years ago when they had the national championship there, it’s Kentucky and Louisville and it’s going to be crazy."
Some Louisville and Kentucky fans felt as if they hit the lottery on Monday. Each school is allotted a block of 1,250 all-session tickets.
Indiana Sports Corp. spokesman John Dedman said in an email that the other 30,000 tickets will be sold to the general public or given to other groups, presumably sponsors.
One of the lucky ones was University of Louisville Board of Trustee member Jonathan Blue, who has four tickets to the game.
Even though Blue said he won’t know where his seats are until he arrives, he won’t give them up for anything.
"I’m lucky just to be in the building," Blue said. "Everybody knows I won’t pass up a chance to see the Cardinals play, and there’s no price that I’d take for these tickets."
Kentucky-Louisville follows Michigan-Tennessee and is scheduled to tip at 9:45 p.m. Eastern time. Because of the late start, some Wildcats and Cardinals plan to make a day of it, maybe see some of the city, possibly have dinner and catch the first game before settling in for the game that really matters.
This will be the 47th meeting between Kentucky and Louisville, including the fifth in the NCAA Tournament. The last tournament meeting was two years ago in the national semifinal. Kentucky won that and went on to win its eighth national title.
Louisville fan Rob Baker vowed to see this game after missing that New Orleans meeting.
"I’ll be there for sure this time," Baker said while eating lunch in downtown Louisville on Monday. "It’ll be nice to see them get revenge."
The schools are located just 80 miles apart, and Bluegrass basketball fans are determined to follow their teams to the ends of the earth.
Big Blue Nation, the nickname for Kentucky’s fervent fans, is well-known for invading road venues, especially tournaments and neutral sites. This month’s Southeastern Conference tourney in Atlanta at Philips Arena was swamped by Wildcats fans. They affectionately rename the city "Cat-lanta" when they’re in town.
Louisville’s followers are just as dedicated. Blue pointed to the large Cardinals contingent in Indianapolis for last year’s regional and the Final Four in Atlanta, where Louisville won its third title.
Friday will mark another battleground site between the schools and their fans are excited about how the bracket brought them together for another showdown. It figures to be a hot ticket, with $55 single-session seats already selling for nearly three times face value on StubHub.com.
Not surprisingly, StubHub spokesman Glenn Lehrman said 46 percent of Midwest ticket sales are coming from the state of Kentucky, with 25 percent coming from the city of Louisville.