New Rivals: Marquette-Louisville
Close encounters highlights this battle of the birds
Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2007 11:45AM; Updated: Tuesday November 20, 2007 3:35PM
PROTAGONISTS: Tom Crean, Rick Pitino, Reece Gaines, Francisco Garcia, Dameon Mason, Jerry Smith
HOW WE GOT HERE: These are unnatural enemies. Marquette is a Jesuit school in a Midwestern brewtown. Louisville is a state school in a Southern horse-racing mecca. They are joined by the Big East, and before that, Conference USA, but separated by a six-hour drive and the obsession of Louisville fans with Kentucky. Yet what has transpired this decade -- too many classic finishes, too much peripheral drama -- has given rise to a rivalry of the highest order.
The latest chapter was written last Feb. 17, when Louisville freshman guard Jerry Smith, who grew up near Milwaukee and was offered a scholarship by Marquette in the eighth grade -- before the Golden Eagles switched gears and signed Dominique James, Wes Matthews and Jerel McNeal -- hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating three at the Bradley Center. It was "the stuff you dream about," says Smith, who tore off his jersey and raced the length of the court exulting. Says his father, Jerry Sr., who was sitting behind the Louisville bench with a sizable crowd of Smith supporters, "You couldn't have asked for a better homecoming." (There was also a strange postscript: The YouTube' of Smith's celebration shows him accidentally knocking over a female fan ... who happened to be a friend of Crean's wife.) It was the third time in five years that the Cardinals had stunned Marquette on its turf: Francisco Garcia nailed a game-clinching three in Milwaukee in '05, and Reece Gaines, a Madison, Wis., product, did the same in '03.
The '04 game wasn't bad, either; the Golden Eagles' Dameon Mason (who has since transferred to LSU) won it on a free throw with less than a second left. Afterwards, Marquette discovered copies of Louisville's scouting report left behind in the locker room; in it was a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story doctored with fabricated quotes, including one from Crean calling the Cardinals one of the C-USA's "lesser teams." Crean decried the document as both low and ridiculous, while Pitino said it was a joke he had no prior knowledge of. It was only the latest contretemps in a duel that began with Crean winning six of his first seven meetings with Pitino. Rick's revenge was to take four of the next five.
TALKING THE TALK: "As much as some may try, I don't think there's any denying that this is a rivalry. Rivalries aren't created by mutual hopes, they're created by what players do on the floor. Just look at how close our games have been." -- Tom Crean
WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 17 in Louisville, Feb. 4 in Milwaukee
HEAT LEVEL: Blazing