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Fans could see troops on arena video board

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Troops at Camp Fallujah and Camp Cooke in Iraq were able to watch Saturday's telecast of the annual basketball game between Kentucky and Louisville.

"Anything we can do to entertain or distract them in any small way is awesome," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, whose Cardinals lost 60-58 to the Wildcats.

Inside Freedom Hall, fans could see and hear the troops on the arena's video board. Gov. Ernie Fletcher led the crowd in wishing the troops a merry Christmas.

About 20 families were reunited by a program called "Freedom Calls." Through interactive technology -- arranged by Kentucky TeleHealth Network -- family members were able to have a private video conference with the soldiers before and after the game, which was shown on ESPN.

Family members stood on the court with players during the national anthem. In Iraq, the soldiers stood at attention for "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"We all know that all across the globe where our troops serve, we're all winners because of your service, dedication and unbridled spirit," Fletcher told the troops and crowd.

Web cameras and e-mail have made communications easier with loved ones in Iraq. But this added a new element for the soldiers' wives.

"It's more personal," said Rachel Ratliff of Pikeville, who's married to Marine Lance Cpl. Paul Ratliff. "This is the first Christmas we've been separated."