The motto has changed. When things were rolling under John Calipari, he famously bragged about spoiling opposing teams’ fun on the road. “You’re going to hate me,” he’d say. “Because I go into your town and beat your team.”
Unfortunately, that mindset is a distant memory from the early days of the John Calipari era, when winning on the road was a statement to college basketball, and winning at home was a given. But nowadays, teams are going into Lexington, the Big Blue Nation’s town, and beating our team. The road team has entered Rupp Arena three consecutive times and left with a win. The home crowd was electric in all three, just like Calipari asked.
After the game, he thanked those fans for answering the bell on Saturday against Gonzaga and in recent heartbreaking outcomes against Florida and Tennessee. “I want to say to the fans, you guys have been great,” he said during his postgame radio interview on Cawood’s Court. “I mean, you packed the place. You’re all into it. When this team needs you, you’re up and into it. It’s unbelievable.
“We’re giving you every reason to be discouraged. Just don’t. Just keep being with these kids.”
Rupp Arena deserves better.
The Lexington-Fayette County Recreational, Tourist, and Convention Commission didn’t build Rupp Arena for the Kentucky Wildcats to lose three straight home games. They didn’t form a commission over 50 years ago to construct The Home Of The Greatest Tradition In College Basketball, only for that tradition to lose its dominance in its own home.
Before Saturday, Rupp Arena had never seen three consecutive losses–not during probation, the Billy Gillispie era, or the COVID season. It had never happened. Those brilliant visionaries in the Lexington-Fayette County Recreational, Tourist, and Convention Commission wouldn’t even believe it if they were still around today. Maybe they are. I hope not because history was made the wrong way when Kentucky couldn’t handle its business at home against a Gonzaga team that will not win its league for the first time in 24 years. The win in Lexington was Gonzaga’s first Quad 1 of the season, giving the Zags a pulse for the NCAA Tournament. The loss for Kentucky was its third at home to an unranked team. Kentucky has lost to three unranked teams in Rupp Arena in three of the last four seasons.
Ole Miss comes to town on Tuesday.
One loss became two, then two became three. On Tuesday, Ole Miss has the opportunity to make it four. After taking this weekend off, the Rebels will have a whole week of preparation. The last time Chris Beard’s Rebels played was Tuesday night at South Carolina, one of the contenders for the league title, and Ole Miss missed a 3-pointer to force overtime in Columbia. Kentucky can’t let Ole Miss put up the same fight in Lexington next week. The Wildcats must re-establish dominance at home and hope for some road magic in the weeks ahead. Even then, the last three games in Rupp can’t be undone. Other teams, even the unranked ones, are coming to our town and beating our team. That’s not supposed to happen at Kentucky.