Rick Pitino didn't gain any satisfaction in Kentucky's tumble from a national champion to a first-round flameout in the National Invitational Tournament.
He wasn't all smiles or marveled in excitement after the Wildcats lost to Robert Morris Tuesday night in Moon Township, Pa. The loss ended a roller-coaster season for Kentucky, which closed the season with four losses in its final five games.
It's not in Pitino's nature to wish bad omens against any program, most notably the Wildcats, the school that, to this date, has given Pitino his only national championship as a college coach.
“I just don't have the personality to revel in anybody else's failure,” the University of Louisville coach said Wednesday at Rupp Arena. “They won a championship last year. They had one of the best teams we've gone against. So, they're rebuilding and to me it's not about them failing and us moving on.
“I really don't pay attention to it too much, and probably only 10 percent of our fan base think that way and probably only 10 percent of the fan base of Kentucky think that way. There's always empty barrels at each place, because I've coached both places. The other 90 percent just are good people that want to see good basketball and they don't get into that stuff.”
The former University of Kentucky coach and current Louisville boss still roots for his former team 99 percent of the time. The other one percent is devoted to the one time the two teams meet during the regular season.
“I don't root against Kentucky except one game a year,” Pitino said. “I'm very, very proud of this place (Lexington). I had eight years where I really didn't have a bad day here so how I could root against them In the one game a year that we play, we want to win.”
After Kentucky defeated the Cardinals 69-62 at Rupp Arena on New Year's Day in 2011, Pitino wanted another shot at the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. He got his wish, only to come up short again, dropping a 69-61 setback to Kentucky in the national semifinals in New Orleans. Kentucky went on to win the national title two days later.
“I wanted Kentucky after they beat us, we wanted to beat their brains in the semifinals and we didn't,” he said. “And when we lost, I wanted them to bring the championship back to Kentucky. I was rooting for them.”
A year ago, the Cardinals took the long road to the Final Four and competed in the West Regional, but will begin the tournament close to home on Kentucky’s home floor tonight against North Carolina A&T in a tipoff set for 6:50 p.m. Louisville guard Peyton Siva is looking forward to opening the tournament following a short bus ride rather than a lengthy airplane ride. He also admitted it will be an odd feeling playing in front of a neutral crowd as opposed to a sea of blue.
“Our fans will be able to get a chance to watch us at a closer location than last year,” Siva said. “We played all the way out in Portland and in Arizona, so that will be fun. We get a chance to, you know, play on a court not against Kentucky for the first time, and it will just be interesting.”
Much like his feelings toward his former employer, Pitino sees no satisfaction in the opportunity to win two more games in the arena he called home for eight seasons.
“What would be rewarding is the fact we would get to Indianapolis,” Pitino said.