Well, what in the wurl' you 'spect, anyway? You send us on up here in the cold to play that danged Duke again. Ashley ain't even here, off running 'round the world with that Eye-talin Grand Priks guy. (Cain't she just make her movies over here in 'murrica and meet some good ol' NASCAR boy?) Then to beat all, that little rat turncoat turns up back home in his red tie and blows hisself all over the papers the very same morning of OUR game? People 'spect us to settle DOWN? When all's we can think of is to git back home and load up the deer rifle? What in hell's up with THAT?
What's up, obviously, is Ricky Wurl' -- and the Kentucky Wildcats better get used to it. On Thursday night The Rick Pitino Era (Part II) started in the far northeastern quadrant of the Commonwealth -- that being the East Regional in Philadelphia -- when a dangerously discombobulated Big Blue got routed big-time in the first half of that eventual 80-76 shocker to Southern Cal.
But was it so shocking? As the Wildcats seemed to say with that bewildering 24-43, almost a point-a-minute deficit in the opening 20 minutes: "what you gol-darn 'spect?" The Philly papers were already ballyhooing the anticipated rematch of the Wildcats' epic Laettnermare against Duke in the same city and the same bracket as in 1992. Their favorite lucky charm, glamour grad Ashley Judd, was nowhere to be found, with or without her designer hillbilly tease, uh, tees.
And now here came the heart-stopping, spleen-curdling news of the Prancing Prince himself -- and even Kentucky faithful know theirownselves we ain't talkin' Tayshaun -- being hosannahed as the new coach at bitter rival Louisville! And not only was Pitino, Kentucky's former savior/sire all over radio, television and dot.com., there he was, practically bursting in smiles off the front page of their own hometown newspaper, the Lexington Herald Leader, which was scattered through the lobbies of several Philly hotels. "Wildcats seem unruffled, but fans might be in harsh mood," read one headline off the reams of copy Lexington staffers seemed to be filing from everywhere but, excuse the expression, Boston.
"I don't know about venom," UK guard J.P. Blevins said of UK fan reaction. "But I can see where it'd be disheartening to a lot of people ... It'd be a shame if safety is an issue."
At a certain point in Philly ... say, if Pitino had surfaced strutting around in his moonlight job down on the CBS sideline or, better yet, was perched on the Southern Cal bench -- one Trojan color is a sort of fetid Cardinal -- his own personal safety might well have been the issue. And a viciously motivated Kentucky might have chanced to win the game. But no luck there. Indeed, after Pitino fake-courted, schmoozed and then embarrassed those nice, dark-suited folks who run the program out at UNLasVegas -- and amazingly has lived to tell about it (or at least has yet to discover the head of one of his prize thoroughbreds under the bedcovers) -- one would suppose the guy may be immune to danger.
As Southern Cal kept piling it on in that decisive first half, visions of Bad Cats NCAA Past kept hovering. Final Four '84: Three-for-thirty-three in the second half against Patrick Ewing's Georgetown. Championship Game '66: Little Lord Pat Riley getting humilio-dunked on by Texas Western's Big Daddy Lattin. By the time Southern Cal's astounding 6'5" leaper, Jeff Trapagnier, double-hand, cradle-rock-slammed off an alley-oop late in the game -- simultaneous to Trapagnier's Compton homey, Kentucky star Prince, obvlioning himself into a pauper with a six-point disaster -- the one-liners off the Pitino patina had long since been surging through the building. If there's anything true about Big Blue, it's those Kentucky fans, ever -lovin', ever-front runnin', as in:
"Think we could get Tubby to go pro?"
"Who knew Morehead State would show up?"
"Has Rick signed anything yet?"
Ah, Ricky ... Ricky ... Ricky. Those had to be the same "small-minded people" in Kentucky you so graciously spoke of the other day. Listen, babe. Ricky, don't lose my number. (Unless you're experiencing a bomb scare.) But the next time you pull off the most wicked sports crossover since Renee Richards, do it on your own time. Not Kentucky NCAA Regional time. And, oh yeah, a word to the wise: Stay away from the wise guys until Vegas hires Billy Tubbs or Glen Campbell or somebody.
In truth, Southern Cal might have copped this upset even if The Rick had still been up there in the NBA systematically destroying the Celtics. If the Trojans hadn't overwhelmed the losers with their running and jumping and smarts -- against Kentucky, Dance-With-Me Henry Bibby could have started those pitiful SoCal walk-ons he ran off a few weeks ago -- they would have confused them enough with their ethno-eccentricities.
"We're the misfits, the weirdos, the Bad News Bears," said Bibby, himself the son of a North Carolina sharecropper who is "from some Indian blood," he says. "Tribe? Unknown. Don't ask."
Given Southern Cal's practically nonexistent status in Ellay as Sports Option Number 22, it was always going to take USC's first trip to the NCAA quarterfinals since 1954 -- when the team advanced to the Final Four in a 24-team field -- for the global community to notice Troy's multi-cultural tribunes:
· David Bluthenthal, a 6'7" African-American Jew, who scored a game-high 27 points -- including a pair of courageous threes from approximately the Rocky statue -- and did some clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch. Of course, Bluthenthal has been a star of the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games for two years now and he made 41 foul shots in a row earlier this season. Ancient wags in the sold-out First Union Center -- the 20,000-plus attendance was the largest crowd ever to witness a college game in the state of Pennsylvania -- said the last time a Jew lit up a local court, he was playing for the SPHAs (a legendary team representing the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association). And juth try thaying Bluthenthal thirty theven timeth thraight. Clearly, the Wildcath couldn't do it to thave their atthethhs.
· Brian Scalabrine, the outside-first shooting-and-thinking center, a red-headed Italian from Enumclaw, Wash., whom Bibby asked to shave off his scarlet locks a few weeks ago. Why? Just because Bibby's dome is as skeleton bald as the cartoon Henry? Naw. "For the team," says Scalabrine who, not so politically Ellay correct, variously admits that he likes Las Barcas Mexican over on Vermont Ave., doesn't like transsexual dancing on Sunset Boulevard and is all ready to splurge when he starts what may be a fine pro career. "Yeah," he deadpans. "Forty thousand dollars in Greece will go a really long way."
· Jeff Trepagnier, the aforementioned trapeze artist, he of the 42-inch vertical. Trepagnier is of French Creole heritage in Louisiana but he's also a life-imitates-art creature straight off the silver screen. "You see Money Talks?" he says with fervor. "Chris Tucker has my line when he says, 'I'm from the French part of Compton.' The guys kid me about that all the time. We have fun with all this ethnic stuff." Trepagnier not only specializes in jumping over hoops, early this season he jumped through them -- after the NCAA declared him ineligible for nine games. If you missed this on Stupid NCAA Tricks, it seems a co-signer of the loan on Trepagnier's Cadillac Esplanade SUV was the father of his girlfriend, Malika Edmundson, a sprinter on the USC track team, whose mother also helped coach the team. "Extra benefits" and all that. So Jeff and Malika solved the problem by eloping to Vegas and getting married the night before the Pac 10 opener -- "making Malika's dad family, and me eligible," says Trepagnier. "I got to keep the car and everything. The ceremony was real nice, in a municipal building. I didn't want no chapel. No Elvis wedding."
Hey just a minute now, kid. Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel, but love E.
What we all should now fall freely in love over is this ultimate confrontation in the Far East between state and church: Trepagnier and his USC Nations crew against worldly Duke and His Holiness, Shane Battier (a.k.a. "Sharpei-Head" -- his own nickname for himself), who is the child of a mixed marriage and a multi-national hero in his own right. Forget Duke-Kentucky. The NCAAs finally have a melting pot. That's NCAA. As in Nuptials Challenged, Amour Annulled.
Curry Kirkpatrick is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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