Minutes after Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinal lost to Kentucky in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, he sat on the dais, barely a hint of any sullen emotion coloring his face.
He knew exactly what his Cardinals were up against Saturday night in the cavernous Superdome.
Kentucky is good. Scratch that. Kentucky is damn good.
The Wildcats, pushed like they haven’t been pushed in this tournament, held off Louisville to move into Monday’s national final.
Thirty-nine games into this season, we’re now at a point where we look at Kentucky history and wonder just where this exceptional group fits.
Even without a win Monday night, this is one of the best ever.
The 37 wins are most-ever in school history and this group is only the third team since 1956 to go undefeated in SEC play.
But a win Monday won’t make them the best ever, just one of the best.
Just ask Pitino, who coached possibly Kentucky’s greatest modern-era team in 1995-96.
“We had an average margin of victory in the SEC by 28,” he said. “We had very few close games. We were a very deep team, deeper than this team.”
Still, there’s no debating that this year’s incarnation has given and is giving Big Blue Nation something to puff their chests out about.
And they likely watched Saturday’s second semifinal with giant smiles plastered on their faces, fans and players alike.
Neither Kansas nor Ohio State looked like teams that could beat Kentucky.
The Wildcats held Louisville to 34.8 percent shooting and forced 12 turnovers. Anthony Davis alone had five blocked shots.
“They’re a great defensive team,” Pitino said. “Every time you come off a screen, they bang you. They know how to handle screens. They’ve got a very mature ball club.
“Whoever wins the Kansas-Ohio State game is going to have to play a hell of a game to beat them.”
And that’s why Pitino was so calm, so collected so, well, at ease with the loss
“When you go home with a bronze medal around your neck, it's not disappointing,” Pitino said. “I told the guys, Look, I'm going to Miami tomorrow and I'm celebrating a season where we worked around the clock, around injuries and everything else. If you guys don't celebrate and have good, clean fun, you're fools.
“Because I think there's only been eight teams that got to the Final Four in the history of the one of the greatest traditions and they did it.”
Kentucky on the other hand, has business left to finish, a work meeting that’s likely to solidify them as one of the best teams ever.