John Clay: No place like road for UK and its fans

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 4, 2012 

COLUMBIA, S. C. — Here at Colonial Cat Arena, before the usual house jam-packed with Blue, John Calipari's No. 1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats ran their home winning streak to 49 straight games with an easy 86-52 win over visiting South Carolina.

What's that? You say this wasn't a Kentucky home game? You say that despite the sea of blue shirts and the resounding "Go Big Blue" chants, the Gamecocks were actually the hosts?

You say that Colonial Life Arena simply became the latest and in this case greatest example of the Big Blue Nation's Occupy Movement?

"Today when I walked out in that building, I was like 'What in the world?'" said Calipari. "It looked like half the building was blue."

So, yes, Anthony Davis made nine of 10 shots — seven of them dunks — scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked eight shots.

Terrence Jones was a first-half beast on the way to a 16-point, four-assist night. Doron Lamb found his smooth shooting stroke, hitting six of seven shots. Darius Miller dished four assists. Marquis Teague ran a team that committed a season-low three turnovers and the Cats improved to 9-0 in the SEC.

But the real story was the fact that well over half of the 16,527 in attendance were big-time Cats backers, the kind that obsess over Kentucky basketball from afar and are thrilled when the Big Blue Show rolls into any nearby town. Those are the real road warriors.

For them, Saturday was a perfect storm. Under fourth-year coach and Lexington native Darrin Horn, the Gamecocks are struggling, now 9-13 overall and 1-7 in the SEC.

That has affected USC ticket sales. That opened up seats. Welcome to the Kentucky Effect.

"Our fans treat these guys like rock stars," said Calipari. "I didn't come out, but they told me they circled the court when they were warming up, taking pictures like they were Bon Jovi or somebody."

(You could almost see Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, the latter in his Dr. Dre Beats headphones, both sitting beside Calipari on the post-game podium, thinking, "Who's Bon Jovi?")

"Those people can't get in our building," said Calipari of the fans.

"Those people" tend to make the most out of the opportunity. They were chanting "Go Big Blue" before introductions, for heaven's sake.

Remember when South Carolina fans stormed the home floor after upsetting the No. 1 Cats two years ago? If anything, you thought maybe the Kentucky fans might rush the court.

"I don't think that had anything to do with it," said Horn afterward of the loss of a home-court advantage. "They played really well and we didn't."

Kentucky has continued to play really well. It won at LSU by 24 last Saturday. It beat Tennessee by 25 on Tuesday night. Now, a South Carolina team that lost by 15 at Rupp back on Jan. 7, trailed the Cats at one point by 41 points less than a month later.

"They're a much better basketball team than when we played earlier," said Horn.

Kentucky executed eight dunks in the first half alone.

At halftime, the South Carolina media member sitting beside me, joked, "I've never actually seen a live version of the NBA dunk contest before."

Showtime? Given the numbers in their traveling party, it was the least the Cats could do.

But then maybe one faction feeds off the other. Given the way these Cats are playing, no wonder UK fans are packing the place, even if it's not their place.

"I'm not used to seeing that," said Jones afterward with a look of wonder, "that was crazy today."

"That wasn't usual," admitted Calipari. "Usually it's like a third of the building."

"We were all talking about that," added Davis. "It seemed like a home game in here, there was so much blue in the crowd."

And for their home-away-from-home crowd, the Cats sure put on a show.

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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