‘The house that Rupp built’ rich in history, tradition

By Matthew George

The women’s basketball team upset then-No. 18 Auburn on Sunday to improve to 3-1 in Southeastern Conference play. The Stadium Rater returns to take a look at Memorial Coliseum, the Cats’ home court, which also houses UK’s volleyball and gymnastics teams. This is the third installment of a special feature rating UK’s stadiums, arenas and athletic facilities  from a fan’s perspective. Ratings are based on a scale of one to five tickets, with five being the best. The overall rating is not an average, and all opinions are strictly those of Matthew George. The Stadium Rater will run periodically throughout the school year.


Memorial Coliseum is probably best known as the venue of the UK men’s basketball team from 1950 to 1976, but since then it has been the home to the women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics programs. With the Cats’ season in full swing, it’s due time for the Stadium Rater to evaluate the qualities of the legendary arena. Memorial Coliseum is one of the richest historical sports facilities in the country and provides a versatile and fun-filled experience for fans of all the sports it houses.


For 26 seasons, the men’s basketball team filled Memorial Coliseum to its then-capacity of 11,500 fans. And while Memorial only houses 8,500 seats today, it offers a premium view of the floor from any of them. In 1983, UK packed the arena with a record crowd of 10,622 fans to watch the team’s 80-66 upset win over No. 5 Old Dominion. The lower portion of the arena is chair seating, but much like most basketball facilities, the upper arena features bleacher-only seating. Over time, bleacher seating can be an uncomfortable experience, but then again, fans should be standing and cheering for the majority of the game anyway.

Playing Surface

The court at Memorial Coliseum is your standard college basketball hardwood. The floor has been resurfaced multiple times over the years, and its age is noticeable, yet the playing surface remains in great shape. Any court that can be kept up during games by towel boys under the age of 10 deserves a solid rating. The floor boasts versatility that no other sports facility on campus can match. During the course of the week, it can be changed to accommodate basketball, volleyball or gymnastics in an incredibly short period of time.

Game-Day Availability

Located on Avenue of Champions in the middle of UK’s campus, Memorial Coliseum is easily within walking distance for students living in the North or South Campus residence halls. The walk is no greater than the one for class. For families and students living off campus, UK opens up parking in both adjacent employee parking lots to accommodate travelers. But those lots tend to fill up quickly, often forcing last-minute arrivals to scour the surrounding streets for a spot to park. Gymnastics, volleyball and women’s basketball tickets are free for students, staff and faculty with a valid ID and are affordable for everyone else. Ticket rates are $2 for children and $5 for adults.


Memorial Coliseum housed national championship teams in 1951 and 1958 in the one sport that has historically defined the state of the UK athletics program: men’s basketball. Nicknamed “the house that Rupp built,” the legendary Adolph Rupp occupied Memorial from 1950 until his retirement, which alone makes it one of the most historically significant sports facilities in the country. During the men’s basketball stay in the arena, the Cats put together a 129-game home winning streak that finally ended in 1955. The streak still stands as a national record. The building also housed arguably the most phenomenal player ever to dawn a UK uniform: Valerie Still. During her four years at UK, Still scored more points than any other basketball player, male or female, with 2,763 career points.


Memorial Coliseum can be daunting, and it can be fierce, but above all else it is fun. The men’s basketball team sold out all of its games from 1950 to 1976, and the women have consistently ranked among the SEC leaders in total attendance. And it’s evident that in situations like the back-and-forth game against then-No. 18 Auburn on Sunday, the Cats fed off the energy of the home crowd. But the UK Hoops team gives back to the crowd as much as they receive. During player introductions, fans are blessed with a fireworks display, and members of the Chick-fil-A Junior Wildcat Club get to meet the players at center court. After the final horn, a featured player of the game sticks around by the scorer’s table to sign autographs. The resulting relationship between players and fans creates a gripping, yet family-friendly, sporting atmosphere.

Home-Field Advantage

Since taking over Memorial Coliseum with the migration of the men’s team to Rupp Arena in 1976, the women’s basketball team has notched a 290-128 record in the historic building. UK Hoops has finished in the top 20 nationally and in the top three in the SEC in attendance over the last three seasons, which has helped develop a raucous home-court advantage in the boxy arena. In 2006, the volleyball team pitched in, ranking in the top 35 nationally as well, with the home crowd helping propel the squad to a 279-128 Memorial record since the program’s inception in 1977. Not to mention, the men’s basketball team sold out every home game during its 26-year stay in the arena.