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Mark Story: You know who deserves an apology? Kentucky basketball's much-maligned Rupp Arena fans.

Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

LEXINGTON, Ky. — In the run-up to Saturday’s SEC showdown between No. 17 Kentucky and No. 13 Alabama, I overheard a sportswriter on hand to cover the Crimson Tide saying it would be his first game at Rupp Arena.

“I hear the atmosphere isn’t that great,” he said.

What followed, of course, was one of the more electric game environments one will ever experience as the host Wildcats ran the SEC-leading Crimson Tide out of the arena with a 117-95 demolition in which the game, as they say, wasn’t as close as the final score suggested.

“The building was unbelievable today,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said afterward of the game atmosphere. “The fans were like — it was crazy. That’s what makes this what it is.”

Here’s the rub. A segment of the UK fan base has done so much (mostly) online complaining about Kentucky’s supposedly lackluster game environments inside Rupp Arena that a perception has taken hold of Rupp as a bland contest site.

At least for the important games, that perception is nowhere close to reality. The fact is, there’s no better big-game environment than what UK backers consistently create at Rupp Arena.

 

That actuality has been on emphatic display over the past month. The electric atmosphere for UK-Alabama was just a continuation of the robust game environments that existed at Rupp for Kentucky home games with Florida (Jan. 31), Tennessee (Feb. 3) and Gonzaga (Feb. 10).

UK lost all three of those games, making some unwanted Rupp Arena history in the process, but the reason for the defeats was not because there was a lack of fan-created home-court advantage.

“I want to tell our fans how much I appreciate what they are doing for this team — or what they are trying to do,” Calipari said after the Gonzaga loss. “They are here. They are loud. When we needed them, they stood up.”

Heck, Rupp was also rowdy for Kentucky’s matchup with the Miami Hurricanes (Nov. 28) in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge and for the long-delayed, much-anticipated Zvonimir Ivisic debut game against Georgia (Jan. 20), too.

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