Every conference has its dominant program. In the SEC that program is the Kentucky Wildcats. Every other SEC team measures themselves against Kentucky. UK is every other SEC basketball team’s biggest rivalry game. Rupp Arena is by far the biggest, loudest and most storied arena in the SEC, maybe in all of college basketball.
Not only have there been so many memorable Kentucky games in this 23,500 seat cathedral of college basketball, but Rupp has been the site of many memorable NCAA Tournament games as well. One of those was the 1985 NCAA Championship Game between Villanova and Georgetown, which is one of sports biggest upsets.
Kentucky is known for a lot of very cool things. Horse racing, bourbon, bluegrass, KFC and Louisville Sluggers are some of the things Kentucky is famous for, but the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team is this state’s heart and soul. The Wildcats fans not only pack Rupp for every home game, but these fans will half fill the other SEC gyms for the Wildcats away games as well. If you have ever been to the SEC Tournament, you know that three fourths of the fans at the next one will be wearing UK Blue.
Kentucky basketball has more wins than any other college basketball program with 2,178 and only 673 losses. They have been to the NCAA Tournament 54 times. The Wildcats have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen 41 times, the Elite Eight 36 times, the Final Four 17 times and the National Championship Game 12 times winning the National Championship eight times. Only UCLA with 11 NCAA Tournament Championships has more than UK.
Some of the many great players to come out of Kentucky include Dan Issel, Pat Riley, Kyle Macy, Kevin Grevey, Jack Givens, Sean Woods, Louie Dampier, Kenny Walker, Sam Bowie, Jamal Mashburn, Pat Patterson, Tayshaun Prince, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, Chuck Hayes, Keith Bogans, John Pelfrey, Travis Ford, Tony Delk, Nerlens Noel, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Eric Bledsoe, Terrance Jones, Julius Randle, Karl Anthony Towns and so many more.
Kentucky players are all over the NBA, especially since current head coach John Calipari took over seven seasons ago. UK is now an NBA Draft Lottery factory, often sending as many as five lottery picks to the draft, many with only one year of college experience.
Kentucky has been to the last two Final Fours and four of the last five. Last year’s Wildcats did not lose a game all season until they got to the Final Four, finishing the season 38-1. But perhaps even more impressive was two seasons ago when they lost 11 games and were 12-6 in the SEC yet still went all the way to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game. Kentucky is never out of it until they are no longer suiting up.
If you get a chance to visit Rupp Arena for a Wildcats game, do not pass it up. A UK basketball ticket is like having a winning lottery ticket. You pay whatever you have to pay to go to the pinnacle of college basketball. Rupp is like going to Yankee Stadium or Heinz Field. You will not find anymore passionate fans in the sport.
The pregame and postgame is similar to that of football with folks mingling at places like Triangle Park, McCarthy’s Irish Bar and Two Keys Tavern.
Kentucky is the only “basketball school” in the football mad SEC. While they are the standard by which all other SEC basketball schools are judged, they now have some competition with schools such as Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, LSU, Georgia, Auburn and Mississippi State who are building up their basketball programs. Florida has become one of the elite programs in the country and have become UK’s biggest rivals.
image courtesy of mycn2.com