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By Lindsay Travis | @KyKernelSports
Lights. Camera. Big Blue Nation.
ESPN College GameDay returned to Rupp Arena Saturday morning, along with more than 15,000 UK fans. The crowd was the largest of the season for GameDay.
Fans filed in a little after 8 a.m. with signs and fatheads in hand.
Rece Davis, Jalen Rose, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps were the hosts of the day. Phelps was the first to make his way to the GameDay desk and had a message for the crowd, telling them “you’ll be the reason Kentucky wins tonight.”
“For GameDay, you’re going to show the nation why there’s basketball, but there’s Kentucky basketball,” he said. “And that Kentucky fans, with the blue, they know how to get it done. Tonight is your night.”
The ESPN crew filmed a version of the popular “Harlem Shake,” but made it unique to UK. Phelps dubbed it the “Big Blue Shake.”
A masked Jay Bilas started off the dance alone in front of the GameDay desk. Soon, costumed students and hosts joined in the dance along with all of those in the arena.
“I think Rupp is one of the great arenas in the country and primarily because of the passion that the crowd brings to it,” Bilas said. “Here, the teams are always really good and the crowd adds to it. That’s why they’ve hung all these banners here.”
The ESPN crew was well aware of UK head coach John Calipari choosing to play a game of dodgeball the night before the game against Vanderbilt earlier in the week.
“I like the dodgeball theme because it gave us the opportunity to throw dodgeballs at Digger,” Davis said.
UK’s mascot, the Wildcat, participated along with the hosts and was the only one who managed to hit Phelps, to the delight of the fans.
Some students, along with locally known fan “Stone Cold Willow,” were dancing shirtless in the stands for a short period of time.
They caught the attention of many, including UK sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, who recorded the action on his phone.
At one point during the GameDay broadcast, the Wildcat was crowd surfing in the student section directly behind the desk.
Freshman centers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein were picked to play “Know Your Teammate.” The questions were, “Who’s the best dodgeball player on the team?”, “What would make Noel cut his hair?” and “Who is your favorite Kentucky player of all time?”
Noel won, 2-1, and although nothing could make him lose the flattop, his head was displayed on the monitors with various hairstyles.
While fans got frustrated with the difficulty of hearing interviews with coaches and players, they never lost their enthusiasm.
“The thing that I find the coolest about Kentucky is how they like to tell the nation, ‘We’re Kentucky, and you’re not,’ ” Davis said. “Everybody else has to live up to this.”