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Kentucky and Indiana a natural rivalry that needs to be revived

I agree with Dick Vitale. Earlier this week, the veteran ESPN commentator made it known he wants to see Kentucky and Indiana put aside their differences and resume the yearly rivalry between the two storied programs.

From 1969 to 2011, the two teams played every season and the series even survived the Bob Knight era, with the Wildcats owning a 32-25 edge between the two rivals. The rivalry featured some memorable moments and Kentucky’s 92-90 win over the Hoosiers in the 1975 Mideast Regional final in Dayton was the biggest win by the Wildcats in series history.

It ended Indiana’s perfect season and set up an NCAA final between Kentucky and UCLA in the late John Wooden’s last game as coach of the Bruins.

The  Kentucky-Indiana rivalry was always interesting when Knight was on the sidelines. The “General” also wasn’t a big fan of Kentucky during his tenure at Indiana and even slapped long-time coach Joe B. Hall in the back of the head while questioning a call near the UK bench in what Knight called a show of affection.

It’s not the first time Vitale has made a push for Kentucky and Indiana to play again on the basketball court. He did it more than four years ago, but the underlying reason the Wildcats have backed away from a renewal goes beyond just contractural differences.

The last time Kentucky visited Assembly Hall in Bloomington, the postgame celebration that followed the Hoosiers’ 73-72 upset of then-top-ranked Kentucky in 2011 wasn’t a typical rush-the-court moment. It put the coaches, players, and others in harm’s way and gave Kentucky coach John Calipari a solid reason to decline future visits to Bloomington.

Vitale said the “atmosphere there was unreal” adding he “felt the building shaking after (Christian) Watford hit the (game-winning) shot.”

Unfortunately, it was a game-winning shot that ended the rivalry.

One can understand Calipari’s reasoning when it comes to player safety but there are more options available when it comes to piecing together a contract between the two programs and both schools have to be willing to bend a little to renew the rivalry.

A viable option is playing a neutral site game — think Louisville, Cincinnati or Indianapolis — instead of home-court contests at Rupp Arena or Assembly Hall. That would solve the home-and-home issue and revive the series.

The two teams haven’t played each other since the Hoosiers handed the Wildcats a 73-67 setback in the NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The two programs have only played each other twice since the series came to an end in 2011, with both contests coming in the Big Dance.

Maybe Vitale’s influence can help. It’s a natural rivalry that needs to be revived.

 Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21