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UK vs. UofL: The ‘fever’ pitches its tent in Shelby

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Cats and Cards is big stuff, and the county is right in the middle of it – figuratively and literally.

By Todd Martin

Kentucky has long considered itself the center of the basketball universe and with good reason.

When the universities of Kentucky and Louisville square off just after 6 p.m. Saturday during the Final Four in New Orleans, there will be a combined 24 Final Fours and nine national titles on the floor.

No other state in the country can boast the same level of success. Yes UCLA had a run that puts it above any other in number of titles, but because either the Cats or the Cards have to win on Saturday, there is a strong chance that the commonwealth could earn its 10th title Monday night.

A title this year, and the Battle of the Bluegrass beats out Tobacco Road with one more championship: Duke and North Carolina have a combined 9 titles, too.

But those two schools have never met in the Final Four.

That's what makes this year so special, a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The Cats and Cards haven't even met in the NCAA tournament since back-to-back years in 1983 and 1984.

The '83 game, the original Dream Game, was in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Final Four.

Long considered one of the greatest games between the two, the fevered pitch it created across the state convinced former Gov. John Y. Brown to legislate that teams play every year.

But until this year, nothing like this has ever happened. In fact, two teams from the same state haven't met in the Final Four since Ohio State and Cincinnati played for the title in 1961 and 1962.

As New Orleans prepares to become the epicenter of the Bluegrass State, there is still a roughly 80-mile stretch of Interstate 64 that is more familiar, more engrossed and, honestly, more centrally located than any other.

And right in the middle of that stretch lies Waddy.

In 2008, ESPN brought in a crew to interview students at Heritage Elementary about the rivalry.

This past Monday, USA Todaycolumnist Mike Lopresti made the trek from Lexington to Louisville, stopping along the way to talk to fans.

Lopresti stops in Midway and Frankfort, and again the Waddy/Peytona exit, which marks the near geographical midpoint between the two.

Then in Shelbyville, he stopped at Main Street Barber Shop around noon.

"We get kind of animated in here, I think he got a good look [at what the rivalry is like]," said Tommy Hayes, laughing. "We're loving every minute of it. Guys born and raised together, looking each other in the eye saying, 'I hate Louisville' or 'I hate Kentucky.'

“This is something we could only dream about."

CBS Sports will be here today, but the network that will broadcast Saturday’s game may need to purchase a new map reader.

In an E-mail to Sixth and Main Coffee House, Feature Producer Joseph Zappulla said he was informed that Waddy is not a town, but rather "a section of Shelbyville."

Not sure how that happened, but Zappulla and his crew will be at the coffee shop around noon.

"From what I understand they're looking for some diehard senior fans," employee Kathryn Griseto said. "So, to make sure everyone comes out, we're offering free medium drinks to anyone wearing their colors – either for Kentucky or the Cats."

That little slip, Griseto said, doesn't mean she's pulling for Kentucky.

"For Kentucky or the Cards, I mean. I'm not telling anyone who I'm pulling for," she said laughing.

Many families and homes are divided, but none probably as much as the biggest home in Shelby County, the Masonic Home.

Anne Kuhn, the activities director at the senior care facility, said March is just as mad there as anywhere. The facility is adorned with red and blue, and those living there are proudly displaying their colors and loyalties.

"Masonic Home is a house divided between UK and [UofL] fans," she wrote in an E-mail. "We are celebrating this historic game on Friday with a Final Four pizza party."

The build up to the game is proving to be monumental, for sure, but Saturday is still the main attraction.