South Carolina coach Frank Martin joked on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Monday that Kentucky could play "overseas" and would probably draw more fans than anybody else because of the passion of UK fans.
LSU coach Johnny Jones knows those Big Blue fans will be out in force in Nashville this week for the SEC Tournament where UK is the No. 2 seed and plays the Vanderbilt-Arkansas winner Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“I think that anytime you go there (Rupp Arena), it’s one of the greatest atmospheres that you can play in front of college basketball. And you look around, anytime they travel — and I think Cal (John Calipari) has made statements several times — the way that the crowds are when they’re on the road, teams’ attendance is generally up when they’re playing because of their fan base and the way that they travel is impressive," Jones said. "So yes, I’ve always noticed it from time here before and now that they’ve always been that.”
Jones said the fans could "absolutely" be an advantage for UK in Nashville.
"Anytime you’re playing at home, I think when you look at it and the percentage of times that guys have an opportunity to win or you look at the percentage of games won at home compared to on the road, I think you have to give your fans a great deal of credit for being a part of that as well and the way they’re able to energize you when you’re making a run and when you’re playing well and you have that support," Jones, a former LSU player and assistant coach, said. "I think it means something. So absolutely, I think it means a great deal to have that type of support. When you’re on the road, I think guys know that they’re being followed that way.”
Calipari said it was "important" for his young team to have that fan support as the Cats try to secure a NCAA tourney bid.
"Obviously we engaged our fans last game (in a win over Florida) and it really helped us, but at the end of the day you’ve got to play basketball," Calipari said. "The second thing is you’ve got to battle and fight. If they come at you, they can quit, like go on the rope, or you can fight. You can’t have teams walking off the floor and their staff is saying to each other, ‘This team is soft.’ We’ve got to battle.
"When we battle, we’re a good team. When we step back and don’t want the contact or avoid the body check, we’re not that good. That other team is as good as anybody in the country and I believe we can advance as far as they want to go. But you’ve got to fight, you’ve got to battle and you’ve got to really sustain that kind of attitude and that kind of effort.”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings doesn’t see having the tourney at Bridgestone Arena — Vandy plays home games on campus at Memorial Gym — as an advantage for the hometown Commodores. Vanderbilt beat UK¿in last year’s tourney final in New Orleans.
“We are happy that the tournament is in Nashville. I think it is the best venue that we have personally, but it has not been much of an advantage in the years it has been here for us,” Stallings said. “I’m sure it’ll have some effect for them, but at the time, it’s a one-and-done situation. It’s survive and advance. But they get a chance to sleep in their own beds and play in a facility that’s right down the street from Vandy.”
Stallings admits he’s biased about this being the best venue for the tourney.
“I think the arena is terrific, and again, it’s not one that we’ve had a lot of success in, but I think with a smaller venue, the tickets are a little tougher to come by, so it seems more like there’s more people there and the arena’s fuller. I just think it’s a great place to have the tournament,” the Vandy coach said. “We certainly enjoyed New Orleans last year a lot, probably more than any other tournament we’ve ever been to. Atlanta does a great job with it, but I’m biased to Nashville for obvious reasons.”