John Clay: Come on UK fans, get your cheers in gear

This UK team deserves more love from fans

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 22, 2012 

Kentucky placed six players in double figures and made eight of eight free throws in the final minute to hold off a physical Alabama 77-71 before a packed house at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

And the Cats did it all on their own.

The crowd didn't help, that's for sure.

Why, here was UK engaged in a nip-and-tuck battle in the final minutes with one of the SEC's better teams, one ranked in the pre-season Top 25, one determined to bounce back from a lackluster showing in a Thursday night loss to Vanderbilt.

So you would think, in a tight struggle with a worthy foe, the fans of the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball would all be on their feet, 24,246 strong, their decibel-level pushing the home team to another hoops triumph.

You'd be wrong, of course, because that's not the way it's done here, where standing is for students and contemplating in comfort is for all the rest.

"What's happened to us is, we're all spoiled," John Calipari said afterward.

Let's be clear. The Kentucky coach wasn't talking about the lack of positive fan participation. I'm the one harping on that.

But it's cut from the same cloth. When your tradition is all about winning, and you've got a current coach who does nothing but win, sometimes even the winning never seems to be enough.

Pat Riley, the former Kentucky All-American and NBA champion coach, called it the "disease of more."

"People expect (perfection), but it's not easy like that," said UK sophomore Doron Lamb. "Every time you play a team, they come out and play their best."

Alabama is a good basketball team. Anthony Grant is a good basketball coach. The Tide were ranked 19th in the AP pre-season poll and climbed to as high as 12th before a non-conference schedule got the best of Bama.

JaMychal Green played with Darius Miller on a USA national team last summer. Trevor Lacey was recruited hard by Kentucky before the Alabama native decided to play at home for the Tide.

To be sure, Bama played poorly in a 69-59 loss to visiting Vanderbilt. At one point, the Tide trailed by 23 points, causing Grant to grow so frustrated he drew a technical foul and all but went after official Mike Stuart.

So, less than 36 hours later, you knew the pride of the Tide would be ready in Rupp.

Alabama outrebounded Kentucky 35-31. It made five of seven three-point attempts. Green scored 22 points, snatched 12 rebounds. Trevor Releford scored 17 points in the second half.

Kentucky won anyway, but — yikes — it didn't cruise as it did Tuesday night routing Arkansas. It missed free throws early and watched Alabama make field goals late. It could never build a lead of more than six points in the second half. It didn't do this. It couldn't do that.

"If we don't win by 25, what's going on?" Calipari said in a mocking tone afterward. "Part of this is, you don't believe this, but they have scholarships, too. They're good."

Here's the deal: When the fans think it's a big game, Big Blue Nation comes to be heard. When it's not perceived, however, it comes to observe. And nitpick.

Saturday had big-game qualifications. There are only a handful of remaining teams on the schedule capable of beating Calipari's club. Alabama was one. It played a physical brand of basketball that will be a challenge for UK the rest of the year.

"Until we learn to do that," Calipari said of playing through the physical play, "every team is going to play us that way."

It was only inside that final minute that the fans bothered to stand up for their team. And with talk that a new or refurbished Rupp Arena would include the most comfortable seats and the most luxurious of boxes, future fans might just disappear into the cushions altogether.

This is a terrific Kentucky basketball team, 19-1 overall, 5-0 in the SEC, No. 2 in the nation, winners of 47 straight at home.

But even it could use a little help.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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