80-year-old UK fan thrilled with surprise trip to Rupp

Wanda Collins arrived at Rupp Arena on Saturday in a stretch limousine provided by her family as a surprise for the "extremely avid UK fan."
Wanda Collins arrived at Rupp Arena on Saturday in a stretch limousine provided by her family as a surprise for the "extremely avid UK fan." HERALD-LEADER

Surprises are not Wanda Collins' favorite thing.

"My mom hates surprises," said Brian Collins, the youngest of Wanda's three children.

What Wanda loves with an intensity that might exceed her loathing for being caught off guard is Kentucky Wildcats basketball.

An 80-year-old Lexington woman, Wanda organizes UK game-watching parties in her house for her friends. "She's got the biggest TV," says Cora Marsh, 75, and one of Wanda's circle.

What Wanda does not get to do is see in person the Kentucky Wildcats play in Rupp Arena.

So on Saturday, for what became Kentucky's 75-70 victory over LSU, Wanda's family and friends decided to see if her love of UK basketball trumps her dislike of surprises.

Debbie Conley, Wanda's daughter, had the idea of getting her mother in Rupp Arena to see the Cats play in person after her husband, Doug, was offered four tickets to the LSU contest. Wanda's children were under the impression that their mom had never seen the Cats play in Rupp.

"My mom is an extremely avid UK fan," Debbie says. "She knows the stats on every player on the team. She knows where all (the ex-Cats) are in the NBA and she watches them, too."

A Huntington, W.Va., native, Wanda's favorite UK player was her fellow Huntington product, Patrick Patterson. Her least favorite Kentucky basketball moment — take a guess on this one — came when Christian Laettner hit his famous Cats-besting buzzer beater in the 1992 NCAA Tournament.

"We were over at my brother's house watching that game," Brian Collins said. "I thought we were going to have to have Mom treated for a heart attack."

Once the LSU tickets were secured, Debbie decided that just getting her mom to Saturday's game was not enough. She needed to get Wanda there in a way that would be memorable.

So when Wanda, Debbie, Cora and her daughter Lisa pulled up in front of Rupp Arena on Saturday, they were riding in a black stretch limousine.

Alas, it turned out Wanda actually had seen the Cats play in Rupp before.

Her late husband, Walter, was a Marshall graduate, so the couple once came to Rupp Arena to see the Cats face the Thundering Herd. "We sat way at the top," Wanda said Saturday at halftime. "I can't even remember how long ago it was."

On Saturday, Wanda spent UK's tense victory over LSU sitting in the lower arena, in the first row behind the E-Rupp-tion Zone.

When Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress clinched victory with two late free throws, there was one 80-year-old Cats fan clapping emphatically.

"This surprise," Wanda Collins said, "it's been a good one."

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