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March 10, 2013
Rowdy Rupp Arena crowd helps boost Cats
Rupp Arena stood, and the Gators fell.
On Friday Kentucky coach John Calipari made of his 1,232,696 Twitter followers a simple request: If you were going to the UK vs. Florida game Saturday, stand at the under-eight-minute media timeout and stay on your feet the rest of the game.
After Scottie Wilbekin hit a three-pointer with 7:36 to play in the game, pushing Florida's lead to seven points, Calipari took a timeout - and the fans answered his call.
For the remainder of the game, almost everyone in Rupp Arena stood. With UK's season on the line, the fans propelled the Wildcats to a 61-57 win.
"Unbelievableā¦," Calipari said of Saturday's crowd. "That building was unbelievable. That was as loud as we've been in four years. The great thing is the crowd knows this team is so young that they really need them."
If you think you've heard a similar statement before, you probably did. Calipari said the crowd during the Missouri game was one of the greatest he's been a part of since he's been a head coach.
But the Gators failed to score once Rupp Arena stood up. Florida didn't go to the free throw line and missed all 11 shots.
The Cats closed the game on an 11-0 run, potentially saving their season.
"The crowd was great," guard Archie Goodwin said. "I haven't seen anything like that crowd. I thought that the Missouri crowd was going to be the best crowd, but they doubled what they did (against) Missouri."
"I haven't seen anything like that crowd. I thought the Missouri crowd was the best crowd but they doubled what they did. This crowd tonight was unbelievable."
Florida had chances. The Gators turned the ball over five times during their scoreless stretch, leading to three UK points.
The Cats weren't offensive juggernauts during the game-ending stretch. UK didn't hit a shot after Goodwin's dunk with 4:48 to play and the Cats down two.
But the Cats were able to get to the line, and UK connected, going 6-of-8 after Goodwin's dunk.
After Julius Mays' final two free throws with less than 10 seconds to play, pushing UK's lead to four, the standing crowd erupted in Rupp Arena.
Fans were hugging, dancing and making paper airplanes, sending them on flight from the rafters to the lower level.
For some fans, it will be the last time they see this season's team; others will head to Nashville for the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
And while it will be difficult to replicate the environment from Saturday, Calipari expects Nashville to be flooded with UK fans.
"The good news is we have no more road games," Calipari said. "We don't have to go on the road. Nashville has been a good home for us. So it's not like we're not going to have some people up there."
With the crowd behind them in Nashville, the Cats will try to emulate the defensive pressure they played with against the Gators Saturday.
Goodwin said with the crowd behind them, the Cats decided to lock down. The Gators had some easy looks, but with the crowd cranking up decibels and the Cats bringing intensity, Florida couldn't capitalize.
"We just finally - everyone rotated well like we were supposed to, and we had moments when we needed to scramble, and we did that well," Goodwin said. "We were able to make shots tough on them and make them take tough shots. When we were able to do that, then they had a couple of freebies that they missed because they were rattled from us playing hard in the last seven minutes like we did."
And in Mays's final home game, he couldn't thank the fans enough for sticking with UK during their ups and downs.
"I always heard how the fans were at Rupp Arena but actually being able to be a part of this year - it's not even been the season that we wanted, but for them to come every night and pack the house and cheer how they and be there for us, it's been great," Mays said.