Ivan Rice slid into a seat at Rupp Arena on Wednesday afternoon and looked around him in mock surprise at all the people decked out in red.
"Louisville must be playing here or something," Rice said loudly. "Isn't it?"
It most definitely is.
University of Louisville fans in red took over normally blue Rupp to watch their team practice for its NCAA Tournament game against North Carolina A&T Thursday night.
It was a sweet moment for Louisville fans, whose Cardinals are the tournament's No. 1 seed. It's doubly sweet because the Cards are playing in the home of their archrivals, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, who weren't even invited to the Big Dance and were booted out of the NIT Tuesday night by Robert Morris.
Cardinals fans savored the moment by turning out in force for Wednesday's open practice, giving Rupp a decidedly scarlet ambiance. Even Kentucky Korner, which sells athletic apparel in Lexington Center, observed the occasion by adding a display of Cardinals items to its standard inventory of blue Wildcat clothing.
"It's great," said Ivan Rice, who lives in Lexington but has been a dedicated U of L fan since the 1970s. Rooting for the Cards while living deep in Wildcat Country, he's had to live with more than a little heat from UK fans over the years.
"But not this year," Rice said with a grin.
Seated near the playing floor, the Rao family from Scott County were all wearing red.
Bhaskar and Padma Rao and their children Maya, 8, and Kiran, 13, moved from Louisville to Central Kentucky some years ago, bringing their allegiance to the Cards with them. They've never changed.
"It builds a lot of intestinal fortitude being Louisville fans in Wildcat country," Bhaskar Rao said. "We are enormous Louisville fans, and we do it as a family. We travel with the team whenever we can. Every car I have is either black or red."
He said the Raos have high hopes for this year's Louisville team. He also offered some reassurance for beleaguered UK fans.
"The good thing about sports is that there is always next year," he said, noting that highly regarded recruit Julius Randle committed to the Cats on Wednesday. "They'll be OK."
NCAA Visitors Guide: Welcome to Lexington tournament-goers
Mike Garret drove from Georgetown to see the Cardinals practice, and he plans to be back for Thursday night's game. The last time he saw Louisville play in the NCAA at Rupp was when the Cards lost to Texas A&M in 2007. This year, Garret is hoping for better results and some bragging rights over friends who are Cats fans.
"But I'm not gloating about it," he said. "At the end of the day, it's still just a game."
Keith Allen lives in Lexington but has been a U of L fan "all my life." He said that hasn't always been easy, observing that "UK fans aren't always kind."
But Allen, who was waiting for Louisville to start its practice Wednesday, said UK fans might have to stay quiet this year. The Cardinals have a good shot at winning it all, he said.
"But it is kind of a shame the Cats aren't in there somewhere," he added.
IF YOU GO
Single-session tickets are still available for this week's NCAA Tournament men's basketball games in Rupp Arena.
All lower-level seating for the second-round games Thursday and third-round games Saturday are sold out, but upper-level tickets remain.
Based on location, single-session tickets prices are:
Session 1: $78.50 and $64.50
Session 2: $83.50 and $69.50
Session 3: $88.50 and $74.50.
Fans may buy tickets at ncaa.com/mbbtickets or by calling 1-877-622-2849. Fans can also buy tickets at the Rupp Arena box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or by calling the box office at (859) 233-3535.
12:40 p.m.: No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Bucknell
About 3:10 p.m.: No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 Davidson
6:50 p.m.: No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 16 N.C. A&T
About 9:20 p.m.: No. 8 Colorado State vs. No. 9 Missouri
Winners of Thursday's four games advance to two games Saturday. Times will be announced after Thursday's games
Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.