Road Trip: Kentucky
Posted: Wednesday January 24, 2007 12:23PM; Updated: Wednesday January 24, 2007 12:23PM
Among the rolling green hills and white picket fences of Kentucky's Bluegrass Region sits a traditional southern city with a small-town atmosphere. Lexington, the horse capital of the world, is home to more than 19,000 students and a pride-filled school where even the local area code (859) spells out UKY. Life here at the University of Kentucky revolves around sports, and there are only two seasons: basketball and horse racing.
Basketball is a way of life in the Commonwealth, whether you cheer for the Wildcats or Louisville (often referred to around here as Loserville). The colors you wear usually indicate your postseason tournament preference: NCAA (blue) or NIT (red).
All joking aside, Kentucky boasts the most historic tradition of any collegiate basketball program in the nation. If seven national championships, 43 SEC titles and 1,939 victories (and counting) don't speak for themselves, the passion and pride of the Big Blue Nation fan base is a constant reminder that UK's tradition is often imitated but never duplicated. So if you're planning a trip to Lexington, also known as Lex Vegas, and the Mecca of college basketball, let SIOC be your tour guide.
Best way to kick off a season: Big Blue Madness. The first official practices for the men's and women's basketball teams moved to Rupp Arena in 2005 and set an attendance record when 23,174 Wildcat fans showed up to get a preview of each squad. A ticket to Madness, however, is tough to get: Kentucky fans snatched up 21,000 within a half hour after they went on sale last year. The rest were sold within a few hours.
Hottest basketball fan: There is a Facebook group at UK that actively describes the state very well: Kentucky, the home of beautiful women and fast horses. Your typical Kentucky girl is southern and gorgeous, so it's fitting that the hottest Kentucky basketball fan is UK alumna Ashley Judd. Frequently found in the student section or behind the Wildcat bench, Judd often comes back to Lexington to partake in campus events and pep rallies.
Best way to spend a TV timeout: Watching the UK cheerleaders or dance team. The dance team girls perform eye-appealing routines, while the cheerleaders bring home the trophies: 15 national championships, to be exact. Needless to say, both keep Big Blue Nation entertained during those grueling TV timeouts.
Best place to get chills down your spine: Rupp Arena. Named after Adolph Rupp, the Baron of the Bluegrass, it is the third-largest arena in college basketball. UK has led the nation in average attendance in 10 of the last 11 years. Walking into Rupp, you pass the UK basketball museum and get a brief idea of the history you're about to experience. When you actually enter the arena and get to your seat, look up and check out the retired jerseys and seven national championship banners. If that doesn't take your breath away, look around at the sea of blue, especially the ERUPPtion Zone. And if that isn't intimidating enough, just wait until you hear how loud fans and the "C-A-T-S! CATS! CATS! CATS!" chant can get in Rupp.
Best rivalry: The Battle of the Bluegrass between Kentucky and Louisville is played once a year with bragging rights going to the winner. The 2004 edition is widely recognized as one of the finest games of the series, with Patrick Sparks rallying the Cats from a double-digit deficit by hitting three free throws with less than a second left on the clock as UK escaped Freedom Hall with a 60-58 victory.
Best fall tradition: Keeneland. When UK students aren't living and breathing basketball, they're usually focused on horses. Keeneland is the local racetrack, and the breathtaking scenery of Versailles Road alone is worth the trip. Each year, Wildcats old and young get up early and dress their best for special October weekends of tailgating, betting, cheering and admiring the horses. The best day is the Kentucky Double Students spend the afternoon at Keeneland, then hitch rides or take taxis back to campus to catch the Wildcats in action on the gridiron that night.