That’s right, Rupp Arena will be sold out for the first time this season today…and it’s for a WOMEN’S basketball game. The 5th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (11-0) will play host to the 2nd ranked Duke Blue Devils (11-1) this afternoon at 3pm from the inside the hallowed halls of Rupp. Head Coach Matthew Mitchell has been gushing about the opportunity to play in front of 23,000+ for such a big game for the program, and the Cats look to take another step forward in their hopes for a number one seed and eventual Final Four.
It will be a tall task for the Wildcats, as Duke enters the match up today as a very formidable opponent, returning all five starters from their team last year. The only blemish on their record was last week’s blowout loss at home to Connecticut, but hey, been there, done that. Both the Wildcats and the Blue Devils have been mainstays in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament the past few seasons, but both programs are focused on making it farther, and realize the implications a mid-December game against a top-5 opponent can have on seeding in the future.
One of the biggest challenges for Kentucky today will be playing without leading scorer and star forward/center DeNesha Stallworth. Stallworth will remain out of the lineup until probably around the first week of January after having an arthroscopic surgery on her knee a few weeks ago, and without her the Cats lose their premiere post player and leadership presence. Luckily for UK, there are scorers a’plenty on this team. Five players are averaging double-figures including seniors Kastine Evans and rebounding monster Samarie Walker.
UK will once again rely on their “two-headed dragon” strategy at point guard. Sophomore Janee Thompson and junior Jennifer O’Neill have manned that position for the Cats so far this season, and Mitchell sees them as Kentucky’s go-to scorers. “I really feel good about them being able to get their own shot, but we’ll need to move the ball, pass the ball, and screen really well to avoid positions where they have to [create their own shot].”
Upon doing some research on the internet today, I stumbled across a video previewing the UK-Duke game with Blue Devil Coach Joanne McCallie. McCallie was excited to play in front of a sold out crowd, but dissed a little on the Cats saying “it’s a credit to Duke, it’s a credit to what the Duke reputation brings…they don’t get that kind of crowd for other games, ya know, we’re proud of that..we bring that crowd.” Those are some fightin’ words m’am. Maybe the reason we don’t get a crowd of 23,000 all the time is cause…ya know….we only play in Rupp Arena once a year? Just sayin’.
The Rupp Arena crowd has been a huge helping factor for the Wildcats in years of late. Just two seasons ago the Cats played a higher ranked Duke on a Thursday night and took down the Blue Devils in front of 14,000+ in a game they probably shouldn’t have won. Last December, Kentucky shellacked a “not that bad” DePaul team in front of 18,488 and that holds to be the current home attendance record for UK Hoops. Obviously, the team hopes to break that record today, as well as the record for the largest crowd to ever watch a women’s basketball game in the Commonwealth, surpassing the attendance of 22,152 set in the first Kentucky-Louisville game played in the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 5, 2010.
Mitchell’s key to success: “Don’t worry about the scoreboard, don’t worry about the opponent, don’t worry about those kinds of things. In your mind, ‘I have to go play…’ Just go be you. That’s why everybody’s coming out. That’s what they want to see. So just go play Kentucky basketball. And when they do that, I think the crowd can help us a lot.”
Don’t forget: for those in attendance today, you have a shot to win big. Fans who attend the game will receive one numbered card per person as their ticket is scanned upon entry. The winning card will be randomly drawn in the second half of the game. The winner must be present with his or her card to win a chance to be a part owner of a 3-year-old filly named Patinka owned by Dr. Stuart Brown, a prominent Lexington area veterinarian. The winner will receive 10 percent of the owner’s winnings from any of Patinka’s races from Jan. 1, 2014 until Dec. 31, 2014 and also will receive travel expenses for two to at least one of Patinka’s races. Giddy up y’all…
If you weren’t one of the lucky ones to get a ticket to today’s game, tune in on Fox Sports South at 3, you won’t wanna miss it. Hayley and I will be back on KSR soon for the start of the live diary…go cats.