A new sign should hang over the entrance to the Rupp Arena basketball floor: There There Be
With apologies to Ray Bradbury, the famous title of his short story is far more than the annotation on a map when it comes to Kentucky. Rupp Arena has become a place where teams, good and bad, have been forced to abandon hope of victory for the last two and three-quarter seasons.
Never has Rupp's home court appeared more foreboding to opponents, it's 24,000 fans more oppressive, or the team itself more dominant. Teams hoping to come into the heart of the Big Blue Nation and steal what has ever been a rare victory are now faced with a ghastly precedent -- not one team has successfully climbed Mount Wildcat since Billy Gillispie was relieved of his duties as head coach.
I can only compare it to the Roman Coliseum in the days of the gladiators. The foreign warriors knew once they stepped foot in front of the bloodthirsty multitude, victory was only a dream, and the reality was calamity. After last night, nobody in the SEC will seriously entertain hopes of an upset this year in Rupp Arena. The Florida Gators, one of the nation's top teams by any measure, were consumed by a Kentucky team that appeared so superior nobody could believe it, even those who have watched this team improve week by week.
For a long time now, I have complained about these young Wildcats not playing up to their potential, and that complaint has been echoed by Coach Cal and others, or I echoed them. It doesn't matter which came first -- in the end, it's all the same -- those complaints are no longer operative. Kentucky is playing up to their potential given their youth and lack of experience, but even with that said, this team is still far from its ceiling.
It comes now the time in the season where Kentucky must go to the toughest places to play in the SEC from a basketball standpoint, and none are tougher than Memorial Gym in Nashville, TN, where the Vanderbilt Commodores await the arrival of the nation's #1 team on Saturday. Vandy's unusual layout makes it harder on coaches, and harder on players. The Commodores have a history of upsetting highly-ranked teams due to the advantage Memorial gives them, and the Wildcats must overcome this handicap just as they have every other roadblock this season save a dagger three in early December.
But after the last four games, the Commodores must be wondering what happened to that Kentucky team that Alabama and Tennessee were able to push around inside. That team seems to have been replaced with a bunch of shot-blocking street fighters with malice in their heart and deadly shooting at their fingertips. No longer does anyone question the "killer instinct" of this Kentucky team.
Almost everyone in the Big Blue Nation knew this basketball team could be special, and guess what, Wildcats fans... it is special, big time. It's not just their lofty ranking, or their peerless statistics. It is the attitude that has developed over the last few games that should make opponents check their pride at the door, along with expectations of an upset. It's what I deem an appetite for destruction, the desire to completely defeat an opponent by as many points as possible until the coach says, "Enough!"
How many times in the past have we complained about "killer instinct," or weak finishes to games? Nobody complains about that anymore, nor should they. The days of the timid Wildcats are over. The days of the merciless Wildcats have begun.
Here There Be Wyldcats, and just like the dragons and "tygers" of old, they don't know how to be gentle.