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February 22, 2013

GameDay hosts say UK fans are stars of Saturday show

Rupp Arena isn't the most "picturesque" place, Rece Davis said. It's not the most "intimidating" place.

But buildings are just buildings, he said. Fans make the environment.

And Kentucky fans do a fine job of that.

"There is a great aristocratic feel here," said ESPN's Davis. "You feel like you're someplace important when you come here because fans care so much."

That will be on display when ESPN's College GameDay show comes to Rupp Arena prior to UK's 9 p.m. game against Missouri. The show will air at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., with doors opening at 8 a.m.

"The thing I love about bringing GameDay to Kentucky is the passion of the fans," Davis said. "They want to show the world, the college basketball world, we're Kentucky and you're not."

There were "just under" 14,000 tickets distributed for the show as of Thursday morning, a UK spokesman said. Coach John Calipari has publicly stated a goal of 15,000.

Calipari said that figure is a season-high for a GameDay crowd. An ESPN spokesman said the company does not keep attendance records for their show.

Either way, it promises to be one of, if not the best, crowds all season.

"There's no place quite like it," Davis said.

The crowd likely won't be as large as the previous time GameDay came to Lexington, when a record 22,144 fans showed up before a game in Calipari's first year at UK.

Still, something around 15,000 would be a strong showing, analyst Jay Bilas said.

"Kentucky doesn't have a team, they have a program," Bilas said. "It's supported no matter what."

Even during a relative down year. The Wildcats are on the NCAA tournament bubble, looking for quality wins to enhance their resume.

"My belief is, with the talent that they have, and the level of coaching that they have, they'll win enough games down the stretch to get in," Davis said. "I know they're on the edge right now and that they're being scrutinized closer because Nerlens isn't in the lineup anymore. But I think they'll win enough games to get in. … I kind of have a hard time thinking that, even though they haven't always played great this year, are there really 37 teams better than them? I'm not sure I really believe that. Even without Nerlens (Noel)."

Bilas said that, although UK does have to adapt how it plays without Noel, the season "is going to come down to the simplest things," like getting loose balls, taking charges and communicating on defense.

"I think they've got a good chance to make it," Bilas said. "They got a bad break with Nerlens Noel going down. But it's also an opportunity for some other players. It means that they're going to have to adapt to playing a different way. Guys are going to have to do more and get tougher."

A victory against Missouri would be a nice start.

To do that, Bilas said, the point guard matchup between Ryan Harrow and Phil Pressey will be key.

His colleague Digger Phelps agreed on an even larger scale.

"If Harrow just runs the team as a quarterback," Phelps said, "everybody else will fall in place."

Before the game comes the show, though.

And Kentucky fans are the stars.

"We think that we're part of the reason they come, but I still believe the primary reason they come is to show off their passion for the program," Davis said. "Hopefully we can showcase that."


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