If you’re visiting Louisville and attending NCAA 2nd and 3rd round games, welcome. Your excitement helped fill the KFC Yum! Center on the opening day of the NCAA Tournament. Fans were sporting their spectrum of colors as they waited anxiously for the front doors of the arena to open to the public at 10:45 this a.m.
However, not everyone hopped on a bus and traveled 6 ½ hours like a group of Marquette fans I spoke to this morning did. No, another couple I chatted with came from within the state – Ashland, KY – about a three hour drive east of Louisvile. The University of Kentucky supporters said they planned to make a weekend getaway out of their NCAA trip. The couple is staying at the Galt House, right next to the YUM! Center and plan to entertain themselves in the downtown area to avoid giving up their highly coveted parking spot.
My friendly Ashland, KY couple is going to check out the Louisville Slugger Museum, eat at some notable restaurants and perhaps even catch a weekend showing of Mary Poppins, being performed at the Kentucky Center. Of course, you can always browse our website  and event calendar  to find details on all of these and more.
Now, on to the Kentucky basketball.
Murray State vs. Colorado State
The Murray State Racers entered this matchup as the favorite and the Kentucky support came out in full force to cheer on the number 6 seeded team in the West region. As a Murray State alum myself, it was very cool to see UK fans rooting hard for my alma mater.
The Racers got off to somewhat of a sloppy start and fell behind early. After calming down, Murray took its first lead at 14-13, about 7 minutes into the 1st half. You could feel the momentum begin to shift in the home team’s favor and Murray would relinquish the lead only one more time with a couple minutes remaining in the first half.
Coach Steve Prohm got the Racers to make some necessary adjustments at halftime, as a refreshed and energized Murray State team came out and got a rally going that left a 33% FG shooting Colorado State in the dust. The Racers looked considerably more solid and confident in the second half, but had some shooting troubles of their own. Murray shot a putrid 50% (13-26) from the charity line and the usually hot Isaiah Canaan was held to 1-6 from 3-ball land where he regularly shoots about 47%.
In the end, the Racers prevailed 58-41 and will go up against a fierce Marquette squad this Saturday. Marquette won their game over BYU 88-68. Murray could need every bit of their fan support and a solid performance to make it out of this coming weekend.
Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky
I can’t say it enough, I love the fact that this year’s Dance includes four Kentucky basketball teams, but it’s just a shame that 16th-seeded Western Kentucky had to make their entrance against a beastly UK team. Granted, there are probably only a couple of teams in the West region the Hilltoppers would have had a fighting chance against, but there wasn’t much hope in this one for them.
It’s not just that they were out-skilled. If ever there could be a “Rupp away from home,” the KFC Yum Center on March 15th 2012 was it. There was a decent showing for Western Kentucky who hails from Bowling Green, KY. Nonetheless, there was no competing with the vast sea of royal blue that walled the Louisville arena. Each spectacular dunk was met with skull-vibrating cheers and each mention of a Hall of Fame Duke player on the megatron was met with a unified and condemning “BOOOOOOO!”
The Cats won the tipoff and quickly got out to a 10-0 start. The Hilltoppers managed to rally back and keep the game close for much of the first half. However, with about 7 minutes until the half, UK seemed to switch it into another gear and went to the locker room with a comfortable 19 point advantage over Western.
WKU would need an impressive run early in the second half to get back into the game, but none was to be found. The game quickly turned into a Sportscenter Top 10 reel for the Wildcats, complete with a petty technical foul called against Anthony Davis for hanging on the rim. Much like Rupp Arena, the crowd didn’t seem to head for the exits until the final buzzer sounded. The Kentucky Wildcats took this one 81-66 in front of a crowd that included retired coach/player Pat Riley.
NCAA Tourney play will commence at the KFC YUM! Center on Saturday. If you don’t have tickets and want some, take to the internet, but expect to shell out big. In the meantime, check out this special Louisville.com courtside footage of UK’s Terrence Jones slamming one home.
Photos courtesy of: Michael Windle, Louisville.com