Traveling Kentucky fans provide home court advantage in Tampa


Fans pour into Amalie Arena before the UK vs. Vanderbilt SEC Tournament quarterfinals mens basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. UK won 77-71. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

TAMPA, Fla.—Despite the SEC Tournament being held in Tampa instead of its usual home in Nashville, Big Blue Nation showed up for its team, providing a home atmosphere for Kentucky, over 800 miles away from Lexington.

It’s a common phrase in the SEC basketball world that ‘Blue gets in’, referencing Kentucky Wildcats fans’ ability to create a home atmosphere for UK nearly anywhere in the country, with Tampa being no different.

Over 17,000 fans packed Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Friday night, and the wave of blue shirts was visible in every direction.

Kentucky fans were even visible in mobs during Tennessee and Mississippi State’s prior game, creating splotches of blue amongst the orange and maroon canvas.

“Our fans travel,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after Kentucky’s 77-71 win over Vanderbilt. “If we played in Montana, they would be there. I don’t know how they’d get there, I dunno if it’s a wagon train, I don’t have any idea, but they’re there and they’re loud.”

The Wildcat fans played a factor in pushing UK over a Vanderbilt team that entered with momentum after defeating Alabama 82-76 the night prior, with Commodore players even admitting as much after the loss.

“It felt like a home game for them,” Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright said. “It felt like we were playing at Rupp. We were just talking about that in the locker room. They had a great crowd that had great energy. When they needed to be picked up, when they needed some energy, their fans were there. Hats off to them for traveling the way they do and having a fan base like that.”

Wright’s teammate, Scotty Pippen Jr, echoed the sentiment and spoke to how it hurt the Commodores as they fought to continue their tournament run.

“The fans, they feed off their energy,” Pippen said. “Just knowing that we don’t have the same traveling fans… we try to create our own energy throughout that just knowing we got each other.”

Entering the tournament there was talks that Auburn fans may pack the house more than BBN, and though Auburn fans showed out early for the Tiger’s noon tip-off, it paled in comparison to the Wildcat attendance.

“We were getting on the bus and police had to get them away from the tunnel,” Calipari said. “They were trying to run down next to the bus. I know somebody said there’s a team [other than Kentucky] that’s going to have all the fans. What, are you out of your mind? Are you smoking crack? I guess if you say it enough then it’s true.”

The atmosphere also helped boost one Kentucky player specifically, with freshman TyTy Washington Jr scoring 25 points in his first ever SEC Tournament game.

“It was crazy,” Washington said. “When we first got out there everybody was screaming. I looked in the crowd to see nothing but blue shirts. Whenever I hear that ‘Go Big Blue’ chant it’s just unreal.”

Kentucky point guard Sahvir Wheeler recalled his time with Georgia in the SEC Tournament before transferring to UK.

“I remember my freshman year,” Wheeler said. “Playing against Ole Miss, I looked up in the stands expecting red, but no, I saw a lot of Kentucky shirts out there. Tonight, like TyTy said, I think my favorite part is when it comes time to make that run and we kind of hear that ‘Go Big Blue’. It gives me goosebumps just having the support of our fans traveling with us, they make a difference for sure.”

With a tough matchup against Tennessee, another fanbase that appeared to travel well, set for 3 p.m. EST the very next day, Calipari spoke to the importance of having Wildcats fans in the arena.

“It makes this place what it is — our fans,” He said. “They’re crazy, but I love them. I love our fans. I say they’re crazy, I’ll watch this tape tonight and I just watched it because I coached it. I’ll watch the tape one time. We have fans who watch it three times. What’s wrong with you? I watch it once and I coached the team, you’re watching it three times? That’s what makes our fans unique and different.”

Kentucky takes on Tennessee on Saturday, March 12, inside Amalie Arena in the SEC Tournament Semi’s at 3 p.m. EST.