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March 27, 2012It's hard enough to block out the noise when Kentucky and Louisville play a regular-season basketball game.
It's almost impossible when the in-state rivals are set to hook up at the Final Four.
"It's been kind of hard - all the fans outside waiting for us to come outside, cheering, asking for autographs, telling us to beat Louisville and things like that," point guard Marquis Teague said Tuesday. "We've been just trying to downplay it and take it like we normally do."
The Wildcats (36-2) and Cardinals (30-9) will meet Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans in an NCAA Tournament national semifinal that tips off at 6:09 p.m. The hype that surrounds a typical UK-U of L game pales by comparison.
"It's a lot more intense now," Teague said. "It's the Final Four, so it means that much more."
But UK coach John Calipari has stressed this week - and will continue to as the Cats prepare to depart for New Orleans - that the name of the opponent matters little on college basketball's biggest stage.
A win means a shot at a national championship. A loss means the season is over. Those stakes can't be raised by a rivalry game, Calipari said.
"When you're playing a game at this stage of the season, a win or a loss doesn't matter if the school is 12 miles from you or 1,000 miles from you," Calipari said. "It really does not matter."
Calipari will concede that the game will mean more than a typical Final Four game to UK and U of L fans. But he continues to stress to his team - which will leave for New Orleans on Wednesday afternoon - that it can't mean anything extra for them.
" Louisville fans, Kentucky fans, oh my gosh," Calipari said. "But the teams? I can't imagine that Louisville's (any more excited). They want to win the game because they want to advance. We want to win the game because we want to advance."
Kentucky forward Anthony Davis, already named the winner of two national Player of the Year awards, is "fine," Calipari said on Tuesday, two days after he hurt his left knee in the South Regional Final against Baylor.
Davis was hurt in a knee-to-knee collision with Baylor forward Perry Jones III. Davis left the game briefly and looked hobbled during his return, but he said after the game that he wouldn't sit out this week.
"He's good," Calipari said Tuesday.
Given time, a basketball player can adjust to almost any playing condition.
But there's no much time to prepare for what awaits at the Superdome. Games will be played on an elevated court in the center of the stadium, creating an unusual atmosphere, particularly when coupled with the wide-open space of the shooting background.
"Well we've got a court in here that's six feet off the ground," Calipari joked Tuesday, gesturing toward UK's practice court at the Joe Craft Center. "We built one. Only Kentucky can do that. I'm not sure if we're allowed to do that. I didn't ask anybody."
Calipari was kidding. His Cats' preparation for the dome will be limited to practices on Thursday and Friday. He's had some experience with the court setup, having coached on it at last season's Final Four in Houston.
Last season at Reliant Stadium, Final Four teams shot a combined 34.3 percent from the floor in three games, 28.1 percent from the three-point line.
It's an adjustment for the coaching staff - only Calipari is allowed at court level; assistants must remain in the bench area below the raised court - and for the players.
"The arena with these raised floors changed things somewhat and I think you've got to get in there and do as much shooting as you can do," Calipari said. "Last year, I didn't realize that."
The Cats aren't the only team in need of adjustment. The rest of the Final Four field will have to find its way around the elevated court and taxing shooting background.
"I think it's depth perception, without question," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said on a conference call Monday. "It's something you have to get used to. We've seen it before. It's the wide open space. Practice and you get used to it. You get comfortable with the open spaces.
"It's getting used to the background and get as much play in there. Wish the NCAA would give us more time so you could just take your time instead of rushing with the clock. I don't know why they don't give us more time."
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