ARLINGTON, Texas — Kentucky's 67-62 defeat against Baylor Friday night/Saturday morning posed a basketball variation to a familiar philosophical question. If a gaggle of fans is inside a mostly empty stadium, do they make a sound?
Answer: Yes. But it's only an echo of the usual tumult.
Given the size of the crowd inside AT&T Stadium, the game could have been played in an AT&T phone booth. An ice storm, which led Dallas officials to issue an Ice Force Level I alert, no doubt contributed to the surreal atmosphere: Think a Maui Invitational crowd placed inside an indoor stadium seating 88,000.
Surely the scheduled start of 10 p.m. EST, pushed to 11:19 by the UK women's four-overtime victory over Baylor to begin a co-ed double-header, also hurt attendance.
Presumably, many more people will attend the Final Four here in April, when the capacity is expected to exceed 100,000. Security officials said the home of the Dallas Cowboys had seen bigger crowds for a professional bowlers' tour stop, tractor pull and numerous private functions.
To hear the UK fans who did attend, their favorite team's effort matched the miniscule attendance. The Cats got pounded on the boards 41-25. When Baylor rebounded a missed free throw in the final 30 seconds, a fan could be heard shouting (he didn't have to shout to be heard), “Are you (expletive) kidding me?”
Kentucky, which heard plenty of 40-0 talk in the pre-season, saw its record fall to 7-2. Baylor improved to 8-1.
UK Coach John Calipari won't be able to repeat former claims that fans fill every venue for Kentucky games.
His friend, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, said a coach's duty is to spin any potential straw into gold. In that context, the mostly empty stadium was a good thing. Perhaps the less-than-zealous can be, too, as a lesson learned.
"Hey, we're in an arena where we want to be in April. Let's take advantage of it. Let's enjoy it," Fraschilla imagined a coach saying. "When we watch the Cowboys play in the playoffs, we can say we played in that stadium."
"You're always looking for an angle," he added, "and, by the way, in terms of looking for an angle, there's nobody better at finding an angle than John Calipari."
UK's 38-35 halftime lead was its largest lead of the first half. A three-pointer by Andrew Harrison, which bounced high off the back of the rim before falling through the hoop, gave the Cats their lead at intermission.
That seemed fitting in a half that saw Kentucky shoot better from three-point range (six of 10) than at the foul line (four of 10). Aaron Harrison led the way by making three of four.
UK needed that perimeter shooting because Baylor, as expected, had the size to nullify UK's usual dominance around the basket. The Bears outrebounded UK 18-15 in the first half.
Kentucky had another slow start. Or maybe Baylor had an especially fast start. The Bears made seven of their first eight shots in taking a 16-7 lead before the first television timeout.
The early deficit allowed UK to put to practice something once advocated by the late Nelson Mandela, whose life the Cats studied earlier in the day, according to a Calipari tweet. "Difficulties break some men, but make others," Mandela said. "No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying."
A driving dunk by Randle, his first points in an eight-point, five-rebound half, started UK's methodical counter. The Cats tied it at 27-27 on a James Young three-pointer, and took their first lead since 5-4 on two Aaron Harrison free throws with 3:15left.
Kentucky went inside to good effect early in the second half. Randle and Cauley-Stein combined for eight of UK's first 12 points. A Cauley-Stein pass set up two of the other points.
An emphatic Randle dunk off a Cauley-Stein pass gave UK a 50-41 lead with 13:07 left.
Then it became Baylor's turn to show the kind of perseverance Mandela preached and lived.
Like Kentucky, Baylor went inside. Rico Gathers scored four straight points to cap an 8-0 run that reduced UK's lead to 50-49.four
As UK showed its lack of age, Baylor took a 61-57 lead with 3:38 left. A perfectly executed pick-and-roll got Isaiah Austin a dunk that put the Cats behind by four points.
Kentucky got within 61-60, and would have gotten close had James Young not missed two free throws with 3:07 left. They were hit first attempts of the game.
The Cats made only 12-23 free throws.
Randle led UK with 16 points. Aaron Harrison added 15 and Young 14.
Baylor point guard Kenny Chery bothered UK throughout. He scored 18 for the Bears.