LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville coach Rick Pitino thought it looked like roller derby. Kentucky center Josh Harrellson kept waiting for another fight to break out. Coach John Calipari sensed a maliciousness that bordered on unseemly.
Whatever happened during Kentucky's bruising 71-62 win over the rival Cardinals a year ago, it wasn't basketball. At least, not the kind fans pride themselves on in the Bluegrass.
There were 51 fouls, five technicals, one ill-intentioned elbow from Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins at Louisville forward Jared Swopshire's head. There was also the usual vitriol saved for Pitino whenever he returns to the campus where he won his only national championship.
Both sides expect to be on decidedly better behavior on Friday when the 22nd-ranked Cardinals (11-1) host the 11th-ranked Wildcats (10-2) at their new downtown arena for the first time.
"I think this will be more of a scorer's game than what you saw last year," Pitino said. "I don't think it's going to be like that."
Pitino blamed the unusually rugged play on the anticipation surrounding his first showdown with Calipari — not exactly a close friend — as in-state rivals.
Calipari practically rolled his eyes remembering how some billed it as "the game century." The energy spilled onto the court, making for an ugly two hours.
"The passion and emotion of a tough, hard-nosed contest is one thing," Calipari said. "But when it moves beyond that, when there's a nastiness to it whether it be in the stands toward the teams or the coaches or each other, it's not good for what we do."
Pitino is certain things will be more calm this time, pointing out Louisville and Calipari-coached Memphis teams played physical, but clean games, when both were in Conference USA.
"They were all good games, they were all hard fought games," Pitino said. "I think with just the one year you see that."
Then Pitino paused and added with a grin, "I told (6-foot, 160-pound freshman) Russ Smith not to bully any of their guards."
Neither team can really afford to go too far in that department anyway.
The talented Wildcats are not exactly deep. They only dress 10 players and rely heavily on a six-man rotation.
The Cardinals have 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes a game, though their bench took a major hit on Thursday when sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles fractured a finger during practice. He'll miss at least two weeks, leaving Louisville without it's leading rebounder.
Being physical is a trait Big East foe Connecticut used to subdue the Wildcats in the Maui Invitational last month. Louisville guard Chris Smith watched the game with great interest and hinted he may have found a place where the smaller Cardinals have an advantage.
"If we go out there and use our physicality and our toughness at every position" the Cardinals will be fine, Smith said. "We have to dominate the backboards. If we dominate the backboards we'll do great."
Smith pointed to another reason why things should be a little more sane this time: The absence of some of the players who were in the middle of the action last year.
Cousins received a technical foul and was perhaps fortunate not to have been ejected after throwing an elbow at Swopshire while the two battled for a loose ball in the first half. Cousins missed Swopshire's head by inches.
"I don't want to call anybody any names, but it's just different players, different guys," he said. "We have a pretty tough team and nobody's going to back down from anybody."
Calipari expects the Cardinals to test the mettle of his freshmen-laden roster again.
Forward Terrence Jones admits he knew nothing about the rivalry with Louisville before he arrived on campus. As of Tuesday he said he held no animosity toward the Cardinals. His coach doesn't expect it to take long for his talented, if sometimes inconsistent, star to quickly learn this game is a little different than some of the others the Wildcats play.
"The ones that don't understand, they'll feel it," Calipari said. "A shot upside your head, a trip or a grab. You'll feel it."
Harrellson, like Jones, held no ill-will toward Louisville when he came to Kentucky two years ago. He didn't understand where all the anger came from. He does now.
"Everyone was telling me, 'Kill Louisville, we hate them,'" he said. "I was like, 'I don't know why you guys hate them so much because I didn't really hate them.' Now it's worn off on me so now I really dislike them, especially from last year's game. You just dislike them now."
Calipari's message to Harrellson, Jones and the rest of the Wildcats is simple: Play through it. You get hit, keep going.
"You've just got to be strong with the ball," he said. "You've got to know, they're playing (hard), this is not for funsies."
And while both sides pledge to mind their manners, the players insist they'll be ready if things take a turn.
"We're not going to get in the fighting or anything like that, but if they start talking junk, we're going to talk junk back," said Kentucky guard Doron Lamb.
It should make for great theater, during which the coaches hope to fit in a little basketball.
"This game should be one of those vicious, clean, everybody's just playing hard and playing to win," Calipari said. "When it's over, everyone that leaves the arena or leaves their television says, 'that's basketball. I enjoyed watching that, that was the funnest game I've seen all year.'"