Made my first visit to Rupp Arena on Saturday to watch the Kentucky Wildcats play the South Carolina Gamecocks for the 42nd time. Before Saturday, the Wildcats led the lifetime series 35-6.
The experience at Rupp was quite unlike the experience at the other two arenas in which I’ve watched college basketball. Rupp is larger than either Mac Court or Hec Ed, the former by a factor of about three. The energy level at Rupp, even in the absence of a traditional rival or an excellent team, was considerably higher than anything I saw at Hec Ed. This really isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that UW is more of a football than a basketball school. The comparison with Mac Court is a little bit more complicated, because Mac Court only seats about 8500, and Rupp seats about 23000. Thus, only the most energetic and committed fans go to Duck games, while a much larger slice of the fan base can be found at Wildcat games. Nevertheless, the energy level was comparable, although the attitude of the crowd was a little bit different. At Oregon, even in good years, the crowd is rarely arrogant; the prevailing feeling seems to be one of defiance and resentment. At Rupp, the crowd expects the Wildcats to dominate, and is not shy in showing its disappointment when they fail. I attended with George Herring, sitting in seats that he has used since Rupp’s opening twenty-eight years ago. I understand that getting season tickets is mildly difficult…
The Wildcats did not fail on Saturday, winning an outstanding game 80-78. The Wildcats tried to lose, and South Carolina opened up a twelve point lead midway through the second half. Excellent shooting put Kentucky back into it, however, and they managed to win on an off-balance three with 1.4 seconds left in the game. Both teams shot well, with Kentucky at 56% and South Carolina at 52%. They hit 23 three pointers between them.
Halftime featured the 1966 Kentucky team, which is apparently now playing the role of EVIL in Glory Road. Sadly, Pat Riley couldn’t make it. Perhaps he had other, better things to do.