John Calipari always (and I do mean always) talks about Kentucky getting an opponent’s best – “we’re everybody’s Super Bowl,” he consistently regurgitates. That was clearly the case in Lubbock Saturday evening, and the Cats certainly saw the best Texas Tech and its crowd had to offer. The fans wore black, and the students had free beer starting at 10 a.m. Coach Cal knew it would be rowdy.
“We’ve got a tough game. Going in, that’ll be one of the best environments we’ll play in,” Calipari said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “Now, the good news is the Arkansas environment, the Georgia environment, the South Carolina — everywhere we go is that way. But this may be on top of that.”
Calipari wanted to ensure his players knew what they were walking into against the Raiders. According to a friend of mine who’s a student at Texas Tech, the line for students to get into the arena was “miles long since yesterday.” Kentucky’s team bus passed that same line Friday night so they could see it for themselves.
“We drove by the tents last night. I wanted them to see that you bring out the best in people,” Calipari said. “Here they come.”
“I’ve been to arenas where I don’t want to take my team back – it’s disgusting. Why should I do that and help another program if you’ve got to walk in and it’s just disgusting?,” Calipari asked in his post-game press conference. “Here, that was a classy crowd. They were all over it for their team and they didn’t care about us. That’s how our crowd [at Rupp Arena] is.”
He made the same points during his appearance on the UK Sports Network post-game radio show.
“We’ve seen some disgusting crowds – just disgusting to where I don’t want to bring my team back. But here, they cheered on their team [and] they were like our fans.”
Calipari’s players also spoke about the crowd and how much it impacted the game. Nick Richards said it was “one of the best atmospheres we’ve played in,” and Immanuel Quickley called it a “really tough place to play.”
“You’ve got 16,000 people rooting against you, booing you, calling you all kinds of stuff. Yeah, sometimes that can be distracting,” Quickley said after the game. “But it’s a credit to these guys – we’ve got a really tough team, really mentally strong. I can’t wait to play the next game with these guys. This has just been fun all year.”
Nate Sestina had similar takeaways after the 76-74 overtime win.
“Knowing that students are camping out the night before the game because they want to see you lose… To rep Kentucky on your front and your name on the back, that’s why I came here,” Sestina said on the UK Sports Network post-game show. “To come out with the win in a game like this was huge.”
As for his head coach’s reaction to the hostile environment, Sestina doesn’t have a doubt in the world.
“Oh yeah – when Cal comes out and they boo him, that fuels his fire.”
The team, especially its veterans, knows the environments don’t get easier as the season progresses. In fact, they’ve got another challenge quickly approaching, as Kentucky is set to take on the No. 16 Auburn Tigers on the road next Saturday. The College GameDay crew is coming to the plains for the matchup, and it’s sure to be another rowdy arena.
“We go to Auburn soon, and that’s going to be a really good game. I know for the guys that came back from last year, we love playing at Auburn. We’re very excited for it,” Richards said. “Just like this [arena], it’s loud and everybody is rooting against you. It’s just a fun environment to play in.”
If today was the Super Bowl, the Cats are definitely coming home with some new, hard-earned rings.