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March 31, 2012

Pitino will pull for Kentucky in title game

MORE UK: Go to CatsIllustrated.com all weekend

NEW ORLEANS - Sixteen years ago, John Calipari shook Rick Pitino's hand after a loss in the Final Four and wished him good luck in bringing home his first national championship.

The shoe was on the other foot Saturday, but the conversation was similar.

Calipari, then at Massachusetts and now at Kentucky, and Pitino, then at Kentucky and now at Louisville, shook hands at halfcourt after the Wildcats' 69-61 Final Four victory, and Pitino told Calipari to go get his own ring.

"I just said, 'John, I'll be pulling for you. Bring the trophy back home to Kentucky,'" Pitino said. "Really impressed with what he's done. Love to see Kentucky bring it home."

The Wildcats will face Kansas on Monday at 9:23 p.m. ET as Calipari pursues his first NCAA title and the school's eighth.

To get there, there Wildcats beat their biggest rivals. But when the game ended, Pitino said UK will have some fans in red on Monday, adding that there are plenty of Cats and Cards fans who "really appreciate" each other.

"In every society there are people without brains," Pitino said. "But for those that have brains, they get along, they root for each other. We root for Murray, Western. We're going to root for Kentucky. We like their basketball team and we hope they bring it home to the state."

Pitino, who coached at UK from 1989-97, has become a fan of this group of Cats.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't always liked some of the Kentucky teams," Pitino said. "I'm not going to lie to you. But I really like this team a lot because of their attitude and the way they play.

"I'll certainly be rooting for them hard to bring the trophy back to Kentucky because I'm really impressed with them, not only as basketball players, the way they carry themselves, their attitude. They're a great group of guys, doing a tremendous job."

Over the years, the Pitino-Calipari relationship has changed and been dissected. But on Saturday night, it had a lot in common with 16 years ago.

[ PHOTO GALLERY: The top shots from Kentucky's win in national semifinal ]

"When I was at UMass, I can remember hugging him and telling him, 'I'm happy for you and I really want you to win the national title,'" Calipari said. "He did the same to me tonight, so I think it's kind of neat."

Self on Cal Kentucky's NCAA title game matchup with Kansas will be the second between Caliapri and Jayhawks coach Bill Self in four seasons.

Kansas beat Calipari's Memphis team to win the 2008 NCAA championship.

"The Memphis team was really good, no question about that," Self said after KU's 64-62 win against Ohio State. "But I think this Kentucky team is better than the Memphis team."

Kentucky and Kansas met on Nov. 15, when the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks 75-65 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And Self and Calipari have a long history. Both men learned from Larry Brown, who told Yahoo! Sports he'll watch Monday's final on TV because being in the building "would be too much."

"Cal gets a lot of credit for recruiting," Self said. "But the thing that I think is sometimes lost is, you know, he's one of the very best coaches there is in the country. I mean, he can coach.

"And he takes guys that are so highly recruited, been told how good they are, you know, basically, like these cats, too, but even at a higher level. And he gets them to buy into 'we' instead of 'me.' They're unselfish, they're tough, they're physical and they guard."

Self knows the Jayhawks face a challenge on Monday.

"These guys want to play against the best," he said. "They watched Kentucky all year long, listen to people talk about them. They already cleaned our clock once. I think it's exciting for these guys to do that, play against 'em, hopefully make it a non rhythmic type game. That's what we do, who we are. We certainly have to do that on Monday."

Jay-Z checks in For the second time this season, the Wildcats beat the Cardinals in a hotly-contested game, and for the second time, rapper Jay-Z attended the game.

Jay-Z sat with Calipari's family and friend William "World Wide Wes" Wesley and held a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist jersey.

It's the third UK game Jay-Z has attended in the past two seasons. He also watched the Wildcats beat North Carolina in last season's East Regional Final.

Strong finish for Jones What appeared to be a rather pedestrian game for Terrence Jones wound up a fairly nice performance, thanks to an intense rebounding effort to in the final minutes.

Jones collected five of his seven rebounds in the final six minutes of the game, including one that led to a powerful putback dunk while he was fouled that gave UK a 62-53 lead with 2:27 to go and prompted a big fist pump on the sideline from Calipari. He finished with six points.

"I looked at him at the 10-minute mark and said, 'Kid, this is your game. You go rebound and go make plays, and he did,'" coach John Calipari said.



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