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INDIANAPOLIS –If you want Coaches of Kentucky drama, look elsewhere. Rick Pitino and John Calipari have other priorities.
The high profile coaches -- Pitino at Louisville, Calipari at Kentucky -- downplayed any perceived personal issues as their teams prepare for tonight's Sweet 16 showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I don't care about perception because perception is not reality,” Pitino said. “We're friends. We respect each other's programs. We're friends in this business.
“I certainly have great respect for what they're accomplishing right now. But it doesn't matter what perception is because it's not reality.”
Added Calipari: “I would say we're friends. We were in touch throughout the year. He'd throw something at me. I'd throw something at him. Different things about our teams.
“We're getting older, and I think I'm not on his mind and he's not on my mind. He's a great coach. He's done it at different programs. His kids play with great energy and confidence, and it's every year. The stuff about (we're) at each other's throats, it's just not accurate.”
Kentucky has won five of the last six meetings with Louisville, including a 73-66 win in Rupp Arena last December. UK won the national title in 2012. Louisville won it last year.
“We understand what takes place between the lines,” Pitino said. “We understand the fans' intensity, but we don't personalize our battles. We understand what it's all about. The best team is going to win.”
Personal tension or not, the rivalry has emerged as one of the nation's best in recent years.
“People grieve for a year after the game,” Calipari said. “They celebrate for a year after the game. I've tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn't work. It doesn't matter what I say.
“I've told our team -- we will not make this game bigger than it is. It's an NCAA Tournament game. We've got to play against a really good team. Every team still standing is playing a good team. That's my message. Don't make it bigger than it is. Just play.”
Both teams come in hot. Louisville (31-5) has won seven straight and 14 of its last 15 games. Twelve of those wins have come by double figures. Kentucky (26-10) has won five of its last seven games, with both losses coming to No. 1 Florida. It upset previously unbeaten Wichita State last weekend.
Louisville is a 4.5-point favorite.
Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Volunteers (24-12) face Michigan (27-8) in tonight's other Sweet 16 game. The winner will play the UK-Louisville winner on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four.
Martin is very familiar with Michigan's Glenn Robinson III. He's the son of ex Purdue All-American Glenn Robinson, Martin's former college roommate.
“I have a good relationship with Glenn (the father)," Martin said. "He was a great player, probably the best I ever played with and against. He's just a good man.
“I'm happy for him. I'm happy for (the younger Robinson). It will be fun playing against him. Of course, we'd like to get the win, but I'm happy to see how far he's come as a player. He's a great kid. I watched him grow up.”
Added the younger Robinson: “(Martin) is a great family friend. My mom and my grandma are close to him and his family.
“We had a great relationship. He recruited me. He's a great guy. It's funny how things work out and we're playing him in the Sweet 16.”
Michigan coach John Beilein has had success recruiting the state of Indiana. He has six Indiana players on the roster, including Robinson, Mitch McGary, Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht.
“Michigan is a national university,” Beilein said, “and we'd be crazy not to recruit the footprint of the Big Ten.
“Indianapolis is only four hours from Ann Arbor. The whole state is close to us. We could go to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and there are some parts six hours away.
“We'll go wherever we can where they like Big Ten basketball. We don't say, 'Hey, you'll get to play against your home state.' We don't use it in recruiting. We just say, this is who we are. This is our style. You fit our style. We only offer those we feel really fit our program.”