AP Sports Writer
---- — LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville coach Rick Pitino went to New Orleans to watch the Cardinals’ women’s team play Connecticut in last night’s NCAA championship — but without his players.
Under NCAA rules, neither the school nor Pitino could pay for the players to get to New Orleans to attend the game. The NCAA says it granted a waiver to Louisville early yesterday that would have allowed the school to pay for the trip, but the school says it had already made plans to go home.
Pitino, his staff and several administrators were expected to attend the women’s final. The team plane landed about 2:25 p.m. EDT, and players immediately boarded a bus back to campus. A few dozen spectators looked on from a fence at Louisville International Airport.
After Louisville beat Michigan 82-76 Monday night in Atlanta, players and Pitino hinted at going straight to New Orleans to support the surprising women’s team against the Huskies in the final. The men and their coach have frequently attended women’s games this season and both programs have said they feed off each other’s success.
For the women’s big moment against the Huskies, it will be Pitino looking on from the stands.
“They all wanted to go to the women’s game,” Pitino said after the game. “We asked the NCAA and they said it’s illegal, we were going to take the plane and go see them, which is a shame. I guess it’s an extra benefit. ...
“If we could ever win two championships, men’s and women’s, it would absolutely be awesome.”
Back home, city officials were figuring out how to honor the school’s success.
The mayor’s office said in a statement yesterday morning that it was working with the university on a community celebration to celebrate both programs’ accomplishments. The date and time depended on when coaches and players from the teams would be in town at the same time.
In the meantime, the school, the city and even Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are basking in another milestone for Bluegrass State basketball.
Last year was Kentucky’s turn in the spotlight, achieved with a Final Four win over Louisville en route to its eighth championship. This season began with the Cardinals and Wildcats ranked 2-3 behind Indiana but ended with Louisville reigning over the sport.
“It couldn’t be a bigger day for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Beshear said afterward on the floor of the Georgia Dome.
“For the Cardinals to win it this year, UK won it last year. You talk about the basketball capital of the world, it’s right here in Kentucky.”