Home has been a haven in SEC

For most major college basketball programs, there is no safer place than the home court. But early in UK’s season, Rupp Arena was no safe place for the Cats, who lost to Gardner-Webb and San Diego — the two big black eyes in a 6-4 non-conference record in the home arena.

But UK has turned things around in Southeastern Conference play, with the Cats boasting a 4-0 home record taking down Vanderbilt, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama. With UK winning again in Rupp Arena, the Cats are feeling the swagger that comes with playing in a place that head coach Billy Gillispie said gives his team a major advantage.

“You want to try and win them all no matter where you play,” Gillispie said. “You have to understand that we have the best home-court advantage in college basketball … when we play well enough, (the crowd) has made a difference. This is a major home-court advantage.”

Even though Gillispie believes Rupp Arena gives his team a decided boost in conference play, he is skeptical that home-court advantage truly matters late into the season.

“We are really excited to be playing in front of our home crowd and it’s a critical part of the season,” Gillispie said. “I think that home-court advantage is a little bit diminished at this point of the season because of the sense of urgency every team has at this point.”

And while the Cats need to defend Rupp Arena at all costs if they hope to have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament, many players feel like every game matters now, no matter where it is played.

“Every game is very important,” senior guard Ramel Bradley said. “Especially now at this point in the year, we are preparing for each and every game like it’s our last one.”

After coming off a road stretch where four of the last five games have been away from Rupp, the Cats face a tough three-game home stretch starting with Georgia tonight. The Bulldogs, led by senior guard Sundiata Gaines, fell to the Cats 63-58 in Athens, Ga., this year. But Gillispie said the Georgia team UK will face tonight is not the same one the Cats faced earlier this month.

“They are shooting the basketball real well,” Gillispie said. “They are playing lights out and Gaines is just playing crazy.”

Georgia took SEC East leader Tennessee to the wire Sunday, thanks in large part to Gaines, who had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists against the Volunteers. Gaines is averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds on the season, but has recently caught fire in conference play.

“He’s so good with the ball,” Gillispie said. “He really knows how to beat traps, he can split traps like the pros can. He makes hard shots … shots no one else can make.”

Gillispie downplayed the potential advantage Rupp Arena might provide his team in tonight’s game.

“We’re not going to win the game because we’re playing at home,” Gillispie said. “If we do win the game it was because we played as a very determined team.”