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Rupp Arena was at its best against Kansas

Article written by:On3 imageZack Geoghegan


Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

For my money, Saturday night was the best crowd atmosphere Rupp Arena has experienced in years.

It started with students lining up 12 hours ahead of tipoff. Everyone wanted to make sure they had the best possible seat for a showdown between Kentucky and Kansas — the two winningest programs in college basketball — to watch the final matchup between these historic schools as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Ticket prices were back to peak UK numbers as the ‘Cats brought a four-game winning streak into Rupp.

The 15 Club Fan Fest certainly helped the pregame vibe too, as fans poured into Rupp Arena four hours prior to the game for a chance to meet players from the football and volleyball teams.

While the outcome wasn’t what the 20,000-plus members of the Big Blue Nation were hoping for — Kentucky fell 77-68 in a tight contest that came down to the final few minutes — the energy was certainly the highest it has been in a while. Fans could hardly contain their excitement during the national anthem, bellowing out cheers after each high note from the talented singer standing at midcourt.

But even with 60 minutes to go before the action on the hardwood got rolling, there was a different feel in the Rupp Arena air. An opportunity to beat Kansas was the type of statement the BBN was begging for. When was the last time a game of this caliber came to Lexington?

Fans quickly filled the stadium, stuffing it to the gills to the point it appeared to be overflowing. By the time we were ready to play some basketball — some 15 minutes after the expected start — the mood was something out of a movie.

Grove Street Party rang throughout the arena in the leadup to the opening tip. Famous UFC announcer Bruce Buffer even made an appearance to jack up the crowd just that much more. You could feel the excitement pulsing from section to section.

“The crowd was amazing. I’ve never seen it like that,” Oscar Tshiebwe said of Saturday night’s atmosphere. “I’m really disappointed, I wish they could have left with happiness, but I just want to say thank you for them coming in to support. It was great, very good to see them.”

“The energy was amazing at Rupp today,” Antonio Reeves added. “They came out, showed out, and we competed for them.”

When Kentucky opened the night on a 9-4 run, it felt like the ceiling was on the verge of blowing right off the building. The noise only escalated once a pair of Kentucky’s 2023 signees, Reed Sheppard and Robert Dillingham, were introduced at midcourt during a timeout. Even when the ‘Cats were trailing late, you wouldn’t have known it after Rajon Rondo was brought onto the floor as the “Y”.

Unfortunately, the good times wore off with about three minutes left in regulation. Kentucky played well enough to come away with the win, but Kansas hit tough shot after tough shot down the stretch, taking the life out of a once-rambunctious environment.

Even still, it was a fun night to be inside Rupp Arena.

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