To say the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team is a big deal would be an understatement.
8 National Championships. Big Blue Nation. #1 in the Nation. 24,000 fans in Rupp Arena.
My dad and I have been to games that included the Wildcats, in fact 3 of 4 Final Fours we've attended have included Kentucky, but never have we been able to experience Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
This season was shaping up to be a good one for our Longhorns and we had had this game circled on our calendar since the day it was announced the previous summer. Nothing was going to stop us from being in Lexington. We woke up Friday morning in Nashville and got in the car with our friend Ronnie, who had flown in the night before, and headed to Lexington. It was a 3 hour trip and getting to see the Kentucky countryside was new and different to the landscape of Texas.
As we approached Lexington the rain picked up and didn't really stop until the Saturday morning. It had been cold and overcast most of the day but it was kind of what I pictured Kentucky to be like. After we checked in to the hotel we went ahead and drove over to Rupp Arena to explore a little before the game. The arena is connected to a hotel and small shopping center so we went in a found something to eat and listened to the live radio show that was taking place in the atrium. It was a different feeling being a fan of the visiting team for once. Over the last 10 years we have seen many visiting team fans at the Erwin Center but we've never really been able to follow Texas to many away games.
When the doors opened we were some of the first people to enter the arena part of the complex and it was a great feeling to peek through entry ways and see the bright blue letters on the floor. Ushers with Kentucky, blue coats were everywhere and were very willing to share the history of the team and arena, which opened in 1976. They were also kind enough to take some photos of us with the court in the background. I was surprised to find that the whole upper bowl of the arena was bleacher bench seating, but that is what allows for so many people to attend these games and it's been that way since the beginning.
I would have enjoyed the whole experience a little more if UT had not lost, but I guess that means I will need to make a return trip sometime in the future. The fans were great and you wouldn't expect anything less with 24,000 people cheering on their team. There were only a few UT fans in the building but the people sitting around were very friendly and made it a great experience overall.
Saturday morning we visited the bookstore to pick up a few shirts and went back to the arena so we could walk around when the crowd wasn't there. I'm glad we did because we got to see the original floor that had been installed in 1976 and was used until 2001. They had kept the center circle and laid it out so that people could see it and walk on it. It was a pretty cool feeling knowing all the history that had taken place on that piece of hardwood (the Texas women's basketball team won the 1986 National Championship on that floor).
We didn't get a chance to stay long because we had to drive back to Nashville and catch our flights home. The 3 day trip was one of the best experiences I've had with basketball and the only thing I would have changed was the final score of the UT vs. UK game. It was a pleasure to get to experience Big Blue Nation and something I'll never forget.
Rupp Arena is the first arena to check of my list.
You might like the other posts about my trip to Nashville and Lexington.