A place where Kentucky has won almost 90 percent (422-56) of its games since it was opened in 1976. A venue that routinely holds over 23,000 screaming fans dressed in a sea of blue. And the home of the NCAA’s all-time winningest program which boasts seven national titles.
Rupp will be the scene of Saturday’s conference opener as Vanderbilt will make its annual trip to Lexington to take on Kentucky.
“It’s intimidating, and a very, very difficult place to play,” Head Coach Kevin Stallings said. “We’ll probably have to play our best game in order to have a chance to win.”
With only four players on the active roster that have taken the floor at Rupp, Stallings plans to take his team on a walk-through Friday night to give them a feel for the building. He joked that he might even pull a scene out of the movie Hoosiers to show that Kentucky’s arena has the same court dimensions as Memorial Gym.
“I’ll have them go out and shoot a few balls to have them understand that our balls can go in their baskets, too.”
Vanderbilt was 0-for-28 at Rupp until scoring a 57-52 victory over the Wildcats on January 10, 2006. The Commodores followed that performance with a win in 2007, and barely dropped last year’s game in double-overtime.
Even with the Commodores’ recent success, sophomore forward Darshawn McClellan knows how tough of an arena it can be.
“Rupp is just crazy,” said McClellan, who scored a career-best 10 points in his only trip. “It’s loud. When I first got there, I was kind of nervous. But, you just have to handle it.”
Freshman guard/forward Lance Goulbourne has never experienced the environment first hand, but has already heard stories of the fabled place.
“People have told me that it’s probably the toughest place we’ll play this season,” said Goulbourne. “I just have to come out and be ready to play, get my teammates hyped, get me hyped and just be ready to go.”
And as Stallings sees it, the Commodores have two ways they can respond to Saturday’s challenge:
“They can choose to go up there and be intimidated or they can choose to embrace one of the most enjoyable and neat things about college basketball.”