No. 5 Kentucky sells out Rupp Arena for No. 2 Duke
The Kentucky Wildcats hope a record-setting crowd turns out to
watch them take on the Duke Blue Devils on Sunday.
They would also like to notch another statement win.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats (11-0) made history on Friday by
selling out 23,000-seat Rupp Arena. On Sunday, depending on how
many fans turn out for the showdown with No. 2 Duke (11-1), the
program could break the Commonwealth attendance record for a
women’s game. The mark was set in 2010 when 22,152 saw host
Louisville beat Kentucky in the new KFC Yum! Center.
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell’s program has set attendance
marks the past two years at Rupp, but he never imagined packing the
house for one game the way the Kentucky men’s program does
”This one is big because it is sold out,” senior forward
Samarie Walker said.
She downplayed the awe factor of playing there, adding, ”our
fans will coming out to support us and their fans will be there
supporting them. It’s just exciting to be playing in front of that
kind of crowd.”
Mitchell on Thursday credited athletic director Mitch Barnhart,
former university President Lee Todd and former marketing and
promotions director Mickie DeMoss in particular for beginning the
work years ago to make this possible. But Mitchell, in his seventh
year, has done his part. He has built a competitive on-court
product, building a mediocre program into one with national
championship aspirations. The Wildcats are seeking their first
Final Four berth after reaching the NCAA regional final three of
the past four years.
The uber-extroverted Mitchell – a marketing major – has become
the program’s face: He’s featured in ads for a local bank along
with men’s coach John Calipari and football coach Mark Stoops. Big
Blue Madness meanwhile has provided a popular platform for him to
perform creative dance numbers.
In the early days, Mitchell rode around town on Pepsi trucks to
spread the word about his program that now has a devoted
”I feel bad for the businesses in town that that’s what they
had to resort to,” Mitchell said, laughing. ”In women’s
basketball, it’s a lot of things that you need to do to market the
sport and I think you just have to be willing to engage the
community. It’s a grassroots (matter), there has to be a
Mitchell has forged a home following at the Wildcats home court
on campus at cozy 8,000-seat Memorial Coliseum, just a few blocks
from Rupp Arena. Though attendance is off about 420 per game from
last season at 5,724 through six nonconference dates, that figures
to pick up once Southeastern Conference play begins next month.
Kentucky’s total includes a Dec. 1 sellout against in-state
rival Louisville, a 69-64 comeback victory spurred by a loud
partisan crowd that has provided a tangible home court advantage.
The Wildcats are 88-13 at Memorial during Mitchell’s tenure and are
70-3 overall at home the past five seasons.
Kentucky is 22-12 at Rupp including victories over Duke and
DePaul since lone appearances resumed two years ago. Both games set
attendance marks with a record 18,488 for last year’s win over the
That showing made selling out a realistic target this year,
especially with Kentucky unbeaten and not far removed from an epic
four-overtime victory over No. 9 Baylor before 12,818 in Arlington,
Texas. Facing a Duke team that just sustained its first loss
Tuesday night to defending champion and No. 1 Connecticut has
boosted appeal, but assistant AD for marketing and promotions
Nathan Schawke believes Sunday’s packed house might have happened
”It’s one of those things where a lot of things have fallen
into place,” Schwake said. ”We’re not surprised because we’ve
seen it coming. … The special-event feel (of this game) really
helped us push it.”