Rupp Arena a spectacular big-game venue

By Matthew George


The men’s basketball season has been a true rags-to-riches story this season, especially at home. The Cats suffered embarrassing non-conference losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego, but have since rebounded and are undefeated in the conference when playing in their home arena. With only one home game remaining before the Southeastern Conference Tournament, a Senior Day matchup against Florida, the Stadium Rater takes a look at Rupp Arena to try and unveil what has been behind UK’s home turnaround. Though tickets can be hard to come by, the stadium provides one of the most spectacular big-game atmospheres in college sports and is worthy of the highest score the Stadium Rater has given any venue this year.


One of the great mysteries in UK athletics is known only by the Rupp Arena ushers working on game days: Where are you putting all of these fans? With a capacity of 23,000 people, a significant number by itself, the Cats seemingly average more than that capacity every year. Even last year, considered a disappointing season by many compared with typical UK standards, the team averaged 23,421 fans at home games. The squad has led the nation in attendance 18 times, and in 10 of the last 11 seasons. But there is no mystery about where the students are. Occupying one of the endzone sections, the eRUPPtion Zone is a wall of blue and white clad fanatics hell bent on distraction. And though some students are left in the upper arena, there really is no bad vantage point in the building. Rupp gives a huge number of fans a good view of great basketball.

Playing surface

In a ceremony prior to tip-off of the Louisville game on Dec. 29, 2001, the Court at Rupp Arena was named “Cawood’s Court” in honor of Cawood Ledford, the beloved “Voice of the Wildcats” for 39 seasons. Ledford passed away in September of 2001 after a long bout with cancer, and the court was renamed to serve as a memorial to the man that had dedicated a life of service to UK’s basketball program. And my what a memorial it has been. Sporting an oversized UK logo at midcourt and a logo honoring Ledford only feet away from where he broadcast for so many years, the playing surface in Rupp Arena is one of the most aesthetically appealing in college hoops. And, as previously mentioned in the Memorial Coliseum review, any floor that can be kept pristine by dust mops and 10-year-old towel boys deserves a high rating.


What can be said here about Rupp Arena that hasn’t already echoed in the annals of college basketball history? Since it’s debut in 1976, Rupp has become one of the most storied basketball venues that sports has ever known, thanks in large part to the man the facility is named after: former head coach Adolph Rupp. The Baron, who ranks third with 876 all-time wins, fathered UK basketball into the national power it is today. And his house has hosted three national championship teams, a plethora of conference champions and too many memorable moments to even begin to count. The legacy of the legendary players, coaches and teams that once roamed Rupp Arena still haunt opponents who visit one of college basketball’s most hallowed halls.


No matter how many games the football team wins and no matter how successful the other sports at the university become, UK fans will always love basketball most. Period. For more than 30 years, Rupp Arena has provided one of the most spectacular big-game atmospheres in the sports world. But keeping Rupp Arena from a perfect score in atmosphere are two key words: big game. UK fans have become so familiar with basketball over the years that it seems a sense of complacency has set in. Often, in non-marquee games, fans sit back and wait to be entertained. The eRUPPtion Zone still houses some of the most raucous crazies to flock to the hardwood. But only a portion of students are allowed in the lower arena. The rest are stuffed near the rafters in the upper deck. Maybe bringing the students closer to the floor could help provide that big-game atmosphere even in the more small-time games.

Home-field advantage

As mentioned before, Rupp Arena has led the nation in average attendance 18 times, including 10 of the last 11 seasons. A season ago, the Cats averaged a whopping 23,421 fans at home, even though the UK media guide says the building’s capacity is only 23,000. Those fans have created an incredible home-court advantage. Prior to the start of this season, the men’s hoops team had posted a 401-50 all-time record at home. And though crippling home losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego marred the start of this season, UK has rebounded to go undefeated at home in SEC play. Though it sounds cliché, the crowd at Rupp Arena will always be the sixth man for the Cats on the court, which means opponents will always be outmanned when they play in the Bluegrass.

Game-day availability

UK basketball is not just the biggest ticket in the town — it’s the biggest ticket in the entire state. Which means if you are not a student or a season-ticket holder, admissions can be a little difficult to come by. But it is not impossible. Student tickets are distributed through a live lottery system. The lottery can be a pain to sit through, but rarely do students who are willing to stick the process out walk away empty handed. Though Rupp Arena is not located directly on campus, its location on High Street is not so far off that it is outside reasonable walking distance. And for commuting fans, parking is a non-issue. Rupp Arena offers its own parking lot and the surrounding blocks transform into event parking on game days.