Men's Basketball

Rupp Arena Crowd Boosts Cats in Win Over Alabama

by Tim Letcher

On Saturday against Alabama, Kentucky was in need of a lift. The Cats were coming off a loss at Tennessee on Tuesday, were playing without starting guards TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler and found themselves trailing 25th-ranked Alabama by double digits in the first half of a game that was seen nationally on CBS.

That’s when the sometimes-maligned Rupp Arena crowd stepped up. The 20,374 in attendance, almost all wearing blue, got behind their team and seemed to give the Cats a much-needed boost.

Behind an assist from the loud crowd, Kentucky went on 13-0 run to turn a 12-point deficit into a 47-46 lead with 42 seconds left in the first half. With each point of the run, the Rupp Arena crowd grew even louder.

As the streak culminated on a corner three from Kellan Grady, the roof nearly came off the venerable downtown facility as the Cats climbed out of a hole and into the lead. Grady knew that the arena was loud, but he didn’t realize how loud it was until consulting with a teammate after the game.

“Keion (Brooks) told me that was the loudest he’s ever heard Rupp Arena,” Grady said. “So, credit to our fans, that really helped spark our run. It started when we were on defense where we needed some pivotal stops and their energy and their enthusiasm. I think it was a little extra pep in our step and we were able to convert on offense and it changed the whole dynamic of the game.”

In the second half, Kentucky put the game away with a 20-2 run, once again with help from a boisterous Rupp Arena audience. The Cats took a close game and seemed to put it away with that big run, which gave UK a 74-58 lead with 10:50 to play.

But Alabama would not go away quietly. The Tide kept chipping away at the UK lead, eventually getting within seven, 80-73, with 4:53 to play.

That’s when the Rupp crowd stepped up again, urging the Cats to fight to hang onto the lead, which they did. UK got a three from Grady and a basket from Mintz to stretch the advantage to 12 with 3:27 left in the game.

UK head coach John Calipari was very happy with the crowd’s contributions to Saturday’s victory.

“Let me thank the fans. Wow! Unbelievable environment,” Calipari said. “When we were dying, they never started booing. They don’t boo, they were cheering us on. When we made that run at the end of the half, the last four minutes, the way we guarded, they cheered on the guard, the rebound, how we defended. That’s what our fans — they know what to cheer. They know what to push the buttons. Greatest fans. I love these fans.”

While the Rupp Arena crowd is sometimes criticized for not being loud enough, that was certainly not the case on Saturday. In fact, the crowd played a huge role as the undermanned Cats won in a tough situation.
 

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