It took the governor to first get the two schools together on an annual basis.
Kentucky never scheduled in-state schools under coach Adolph Rupp, and former assistant Joe B. Hall dutifully followed suit when he took over as coach. Gov. John Y. Brown stepped in following their matchup in the 1983 NCAA Mideast Regional finals — know around the state as The Dream Game. Louisville beat Kentucky in overtime in Knoxville, Tenn., in the teams' first meeting since 1959.
"It created a lot of animosity and strong feelings toward each other, but at the same time I felt like the taxpayers were entitled to see the competition between two of the nation's premier programs," the former governor said. "If you ask either school what the No. 1 game on the schedule both in basketball and football, they'll say it's the rival school.
"They have to live in shame, whichever one loses."
Kentucky vs. Louisville is a matchup of cultural divide that's steeped in history with nine combined titles between the two schools, the same number as the more publicized North Carolina-Duke rivalry.
Former Kentucky guard and No. 1 NBA pick John Wall remembers the wild scene before the only rivalry game he played in 2010 more than the contest itself.
"I didn't think it was that big until we played them. There was about to be a big brawl at the beginning of the game. Technicals both ways," said Wall, star guard for the Washington Wizards. "All you hear from the fans is, 'Don't lose to the Cardinals. Whatever happens, Big Blue Nation better not lose to Louisville.'"
For the most part, Kentucky fans have gotten their wish — the Wildcats are 18-11 since the annual game started in 1983-84 to go along with seven national titles and 15 Final Four appearances. Louisville has two titles and is making its ninth appearance in the national semifinals.
The histories of the programs highlight their differences in style and their efforts to keep up with each other.
Louisville's decision to build the $238 million KFC Yum! Center downtown hastened Lexington's plans for a $150 million renovation of 36-year-old Rupp Arena. And both schools built multimillion dollar practice facilities in the past few years
Louisville signed its first black players in 1962 with a class that included Wade Houston, Eddie Whitehead and Sam Smith with little fanfare and later inked greats like Unseld and Darrell Griffith.
Kentucky was famously slower to integrate.
Rupp's all-white team lost to Texas Western, which started five black players, in the 1966 NCAA finals popularized by the movie "Glory Road" and didn't break the color barrier until 1969 when Rupp signed Tom Payne of Louisville who spent a year in Lexington before entering the NBA draft.
When the dunk was reinstated in the college game for the 1976-77 season, Louisville and coach Denny Crum embraced attacking the rim, beginning with Griffith, who earned the moniker "Dr. Dunkenstein."
Crum won titles in 1980 and '86. His high-flying players at Freedom Hall were known as the Doctors of Dunk who helped popularize the high five and helped usher in a new age of college basketball, including a win in The Dream Game in 1983.
Kentucky's style bordered on a business-like approach under Rupp assistant Joe B. Hall. Hall's '78 squad was so thoroughly expected to win the national title that when they did, it's remembered as "The Season Without Celebration." Hall coached through 1985 before Eddie Sutton's unsuccessful run ended in NCAA violations.
It was Pitino who helped usher Kentucky back to the title path with three Final Four appearances and a championship in 1996.
That group, known as The Untouchables, featured nine NBA players and six first-round picks. Kentucky heads to New Orleans with a team loaded with talent whereas Louisville was a big surprise to get to the Final Four once again. It makes Saturday's game another historic showdown.