Memorial Gym provides Cats with another challenge


University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells at his team during the first half of UK’s 92-63 win over Rider on Nov. 21, 2009 at Rupp Arena…Ed Matthews

UK freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said the atmosphere at Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night against Mississippi State was one of the toughest the Cats had played in all season. When Cousins and the No. 2 Cats (25-1, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) travel to Memorial Gym to take on No. 17 Vanderbilt (20-5, 9-2 SEC), the atmosphere will be another first for the Cats.

Memorial Gym isn’t known for its size, 14,316, how loud it is, or specific chants. Memorial Gym is known for its oddities.

“It’s like you’re playing on a stage, because the floor is elevated” sophomore guard Darius Miller said. “Like I said, the coaches are far away from you, it’s kind of hard to hear what they really want you to do and everything.”

Not only is the gym floor elevated so the fans at the bottom of the arena resemble being in a bullpen of sorts, but the team benches are on opposite ends of the baseline rather than the sideline like most gyms.

The result of this renders coaches barking out orders to their respective teams virtually impossible. This was music to point guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe’s ears, joked UK head coach John Calipari.

“I told John (Wall), you better play today in this practice and be vocal like he’s going to have to be in the game, you got to do it. And the same with Eric (Bledsoe),” Calipari said. “You can’t go into your own shell, you can’t.”

The Commodores are 13-0 at home this season and 59-7 in the last four seasons combined at Memorial Gym. With the benches being on opposite ends of the floor, communication could be an issue. No need to worry however, the joking Calipari said the team has been practicing their mental telepathy but he’s not sure they’ll be able to go to it by Saturday’s game.

With so many young and new players on the team, Calipari said the Cats are good enough to beat anybody, but they also play in a way where anybody is good enough to beat them. Defensive breakdowns at inopportune times are what hurt the Cats, Calipari said.

“Bottom line is, it is going to be a very difficult game for us to win,” Calipari said. “We’re going to go in and play and do what we can do and learn from the environment.”

For junior forward Patrick Patterson, and seniors Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris, Memorial Gym is a place of horrifying memories. It was just over two years ago the three veterans were a part of UK history in all the wrong ways when Vanderbilt trounced UK to the tune of 93-52, the worst SEC loss in UK history.

The two teams are vastly different today though, and Harris said he actually enjoys playing in opposing arenas.

“I like going on the road, I like playing in other peoples’ gym,” Harris said. “I just think that’s fun. That’s what college basketball is all about. Going to a new town, a rough environment, and coming out with a win.”