One of the most celebrated arenas in college basketball, Rupp Arena became the new home of the Kentucky Wildcats in 1976. While Rupp doesn’t boast the unexpected intimacy of Cameron Indoor at Duke, the awe-inspiring size of the Carrier Dome at Syracuse, or the unapologetically nostalgic feel of Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, it nevertheless maintains its own distinctive vibe as the largest arena designed specifically for college hoops.
The Chucker shares 11 Rupp Arena quick facts to boost your hardwood knowledge.
The biggest of the bunch: Several Division 1 colleges – 82 to be exact – built new basketball stadiums in the decade leading up to Rupp Arena’s 1976 opening. Of those, 39 had capacities over 10,000, though none was bigger than the 23,000-seat Rupp Arena, which doubled the size of the Wildcats’ former home at Memorial Coliseum.
A 99-cent tour: The Rupp Arena project was completed with a mix of private and public funds, a rarity for the time. After a VIP grand opening event, thousands of members of the general public paid 99 cents to take a guided tour of the new facility during its grand opening festivities in October 1976.
The namesake: Rupp Arena draws its names from famed UK coach Adolph Rupp, who spent his entire 41-year collegiate head coaching career in Lexington. After playing basketball at Kansas under Phog Allen and an assistant coach named James Naismith – yes, that James Naismith, the inventor of basketball – Rupp coached a few high school programs before landing the Kentucky head coaching gig in 1930. He compiled a record of 876-190 (.822) as the Wildcats head man, which included 27 SEC regular season crowns and six Final Fours as well as NCAA titles in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958. Rupp retired in 1972 and passed away in 1977 at the age of 76.
The first win – and loss: The Wildcats opened Rupp Arena on Saturday, November 27, 1976, against Wisconsin and downed the Badgers 72-64 before a capacity crowd. UK won its first four games at Rupp Arena (over Wisconsin, TCU, Kansas, and Bowling Green State) before dropping a 70-68 contest to Utah on December 18, 1976.
‘The Perfect Game’: Rupp Arena hosted the 1985 Final Four. With Villanova defeating Memphis 52-45 and Georgetown overwhelming Big East Foe St. John’s 77-59 in the national semifinals, Villanova looked to avenge two regular season losses to the Hoyas in the title tilt. Led by Patrick Ewing, top-seeded Georgetown was a monstrous eight-point favorite over the eighth-seeded Wildcats. In a contest later dubbed “the perfect game,” Villanova shot 90 percent in the second half and upset their Big East rival 66-64.
The Admiral delivers: Though Rupp Arena has hosted some UK greats since its opening, including the likes of Jamal Mashburn, Anthony Davis, and Karl-Anthony Towns, the most points ever scored in a college game at Rupp came from a guy at … the Naval Academy? That’s right, Navy. On January 25, 1987, Navy’s David Robinson dropped a 45-point triple double on the Wildcats. The 7-1 Admiral combined a 17-of-22 shooting night from the field with 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots (another still-standing Rupp Arena record). When Robinson exited the game with 14 seconds remaining, UK fans saluted him with a standing ovation. Despite the future Hall of Famer’s heroics, Kentucky nevertheless won the game 80-69.
There’s no place like home: Kentucky has won 90 percent of its games (615-77) at Rupp Arena, which includes 13 different seasons of unblemished home marks. And how about this: UK has never lost three consecutive games at Rupp Arena.
Let’s go streaking: On Nov. 13, 2009, Kentucky dropped Morehead State 75-59 to open the 2009-2010 regular season. That victory launched a 54-game Rupp Arena winning streak for the Wildcats that would touch four different seasons. Baylor ended the impressive run with a 64-55 victory at Rupp on Dec 1, 2012.
Pack the gym: On January 2, 2010, 24,479 fans filed into Rupp Arena to see the Wildcats dispatch their in-state rival, Louisville, 71-62. That remains the largest crowd in Rupp Arena history.
Who pays the bills here?: Though built with the idea of hosting UK hoops, named in honor of a Wildcats coaching legend, and most associated with Kentucky basketball, the University of Kentucky does not own Rupp Arena. In fact, Rupp Arena, which sits in downtown Lexington just north of the UK campus, is owned and operated by the Lexington Center Corporation.
Beyond the Wildcats: In addition to being the home of UK hoops, others have called Rupp Arena home over the years, including the American Hockey League’s Kentucky Thoroughblades and the National Indoor Football League’s Lexington Horsemen. Rupp Arena also hosted the Women’s NCAA Final Four in 1986.