Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Visiting Fan Experience: Kentucky Basketball at South Carolina



When my wife told me that she had gotten tickets to the University of Kentucky basketball game, I was pretty excited. Not only was it a rare chance to see my college team play in person, but it was also an opportunity to be an obnoxious road fan and to have a cathartic avenging of our loss to them in 2010 and the even more embarrassing loss in 2009.

Living in South Carolina, I constantly have to hear about it when South Carolina manages to beat UK in basketball; they usually have enough sympathy to just silently nod and pat me on the shoulder during football season.  

Of course, it seems that when Kentucky manages to beat "USC jr" in basketball, the Gamecock fans that surround me always "forget" that there was a game that day. Actually going to the game assures me that I get to see people dressed in garnet and black that are fully aware of the beat down that is occurring.

So on Saturday, my wife and I piled into the Mini Cooper and drove from Charleston to Columbia. Here is little timeline/media presentation of our time in America's 6th most affordable place to retire.




5:15 PM  
Despite most of Columbia looking like the outdoor set of a 1970's horror film, Colonial Life Arena is actually very nice.

Karen and I were able to easily find parking close by and didn't see many students (or residents at all, for that matter) out walking around. We began to wonder if we had somehow bought tickets for the wrong day/game.

5:30 PM  
As we got closer to the arena, our fears were not assuaged. Our tickets clearly said that the game was in Columbia, but the sea of blue that we encountered made us wonder if we were actually in Lexington, Kentucky.


Bonus points for the kid in the Randall Cobb jersey


5:40 PM  
As we headed inside the arena, a bunch of really attractive USC sorority girls are taking donations for some type of charity...at least that's what they said. Unfortunately for one of them, a huge glut of blue clad UK fans were all entering the arena at the same time. We all offered her $1, $5, and $10 bills to say 'Go Big Blue.'

After a few minutes of refusal, she finally said the cheer as we roared with approval. I'm not sure if we helped starving children or just gave someone beer money, but either way it was money well spent.

5:45 PM
Once inside Colonial Life Arena, Karen and I ended up walking the wrong way to our section and making almost a full circle to our seats. It's not too terrible a mistake, however, because the arena is very well designed...almost to the point of feeling a bit sterile. Maybe it's from my time at Rupp, but it just doesn't feel like an SEC arena unless there are poorly lit walkways and outdated concession stands.

5:55 PM
When my wife informed me that she got "really good seats near the basket," I made the mistake of processing these words as if an average woman had said them. My wife is awesome for many reasons, including her love of Kentucky basketball that even surpasses my own.

Karen really did get some great seats. It was the closest I had been to a game since I used to sit on the floor as a student assistant with the pep band.




My baby did good!


6:00 PM
The game is supposed to have tipped off by this point, but it never does at the top of the hour.

As I look around the arena, it almost feels like this is a home game...for Kentucky.




...and for invisible people.

6:06 PM
The Kentucky starting line ups are announced.   Cheers from the Kentucky fans drown out the boos from Gamecock fans...until the arena DJ decides to play one of the most annoying techno songs in the history of the world.

If you ever go to see the University of South Carolina play any sport, prepare yourself for a 'Sandstorm' (followed by a rooster crowing like it just got kicked in the nads) repeatedly.




6:09 PM:
Tipoff! The Kentucky Wildcats press the Gamecocks early. Terrence Jones starts the game off by driving the lane while Lamb sinks shots from outside. Definitely a good sign.

17:51 First Half
Anthony Davis gets hacked by Damontre Harris. When the ref calls the foul, the USC fan beside me claims that it was all ball.  I counter by saying that's only true if Anthony Davis' arm says "Spalding" on it. Davis sinks both free throws

Kentucky 9, South Carolina 3

17:18 First Half
Doron Lamb makes a 3 pointer with Terrence Jones getting the assist. As timeout is called, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist waves to our section of Kentucky fans, sending us into a rabid frenzy of redneck joy.

Kentucky 12, South Carolina 3

13:31 First Half
Kentucky has been quietly in control for the entire first half, but I have a strange feeling something big is about to happen. I was right; Marquis Teague darts down the court and lobs to Anthony Davis. The rest is me screaming like a little school girl and yelling that "I got video!"




The crowd noise was insane...not just because of how loud it was, but because it sounded like we were playing at Rupp.

Kentucky calls timeout.

Kentucky 21, South Carolina 10

13:06 First Half
This time, it's Terrence Jones dropping the hammer with an assist from Teague. Once again, I completely spaz out, screaming "BOOM!" at the top of my lungs and inexplicably covering the camera lens.



Kentucky 23, South Carolina 10

11:09 First Half
South Carolina regains some of their composure and begins to close the gap.  After a Damien Leonard 3 pointer, Kentucky calls timeout...and Sandstorm plays again.

Kentucky 23, South Carolina 15

11:02 First Half
Karen and I are informed via a text message from her brother that he caught a glimpse of us doing "The Robot" on television during a timeout. If anyone can confirm this, please let me know...and try not to be jealous of how awesome we are.

Kentucky 25, South Carolina 15

10:08 First Half
South Carolina's RJ Slawson gets called for a very questionable foul on Anthony Davis. I fully expected the Gamecock fans in the crowd to go berserk with anger, but they mostly just seem indifferent.

Kentucky 27, South Carolina 18

8:03 First Half
The tempo of the game has slowed down, my ADD medicine is wearing off, and I'm getting bored. I decide to bite my wife's shoulder.

Kentucky 31, South Carolina 18

7:51 First Half
DANCE TEAM WARDROBE MALFUNCTION!

During a timeout, the dance team came out to perform. One of the dancers' tops came unfastened and almost came completely off. Before you even ask, no I did not have my camera recording, nor did I try to take a picture (in time).

I attempted to throw a dollar bill onto the floor, but my wife stopped me.


                                                                                                                                          gamecocksonline


Kentucky 31, South Carolina 18

7:05 First Half
Anthony Davis makes a basket while getting fouled. The crowd goes wild.

On the other end of the court, South Carolina's Damien Leonard does the same thing, but makes an even more amazing shot. The crowd barely matches the noise level the Kentucky fans gave for Davis' basket.

Kentucky 36, South Carolina 22

4:21 First Half
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is on the receiving end of a very hard foul from South Carolina's Bruce Ellington. Kidd-Gilchrist hits the floor hard hard and stays down for a while. As Kentucky fans hold their breath, the USC fan behind me says "Good, good..."

I call upon my zen-like patience (and a desire not to get arrested) and resist the urge to punch him in the face. Kidd Gilchrist gets up and sinks 1 of 2 free throws.

Kentucky 42, South Carolina 22

3:03 First Half
During a time out, the Gamecock mascot offers to give a free pizza to a fan. Karen and I are dissappointed when he simply hands it to a student instead of throwing it.

Kentucky 44, South Carolina 25

1:37 First Half
Terrence Jones blocks a shot. The crowd goes nuts.

Anthony Davis blocks another shot, sending this one out to half court.  Kentucky fans began chanting "Go Big Blue." South Carolina fans don't even try to drown it out with boos.

Kentucky 50, South Carolina 25

0:42 First Half
Whatever chance of a comeback the Gamecocks may have had was destroyed on this play. After Terrence Jones misses an alley oop dunk, the rebound gets knocked back to Kentucky.

Lamb takes a long 3 as the shot clock expires, but misses...and Anthony Davis slams home the rebound to end the half.

The crowd chants "GO BIG BLUE" and cheers like crazy while the arena DJ attempts to play the rooster crowing over us. It doesn't work.



Kentucky 52, South Carolina 25.

Halftime
My friend Jeff (another fellow Charlestonian/UK graduate) joins me as we walk through the upper concourse. Right as we are about to head back to our seats, I see someone whose awesomeness needs to be documented.

Swagga indeed, good sir.  Swagga indeed.

While using the bathrooms at Colonial Life Arena, I am truly impressed with how nice they are. In fact, I attempted to take a picture of it until everyone began staring at me and I realized that I was attempting to photograph a fully occupied men's bathroom.

I find Jeff and we hurry back to our seats.

Start of 2nd Half
Sandstorm is playing again. Thankfully, this would be the last time we would have to hear it for the rest of the evening.

Kentucky started things off with an Anthony Davis block (which tied Shaquille O'Neal's single season record) followed by Doron Lamb nailing a jumper while getting fouled. This is going to get real ugly for South Carolina real fast.

Lamb sinks the free throw to complete the 3 point play.

Kentucky 55, South Carolina 25.

14:40 Second Half
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist receives another hard foul and hits the deck.  Everyone in our sections starts to mumble about it being time to take out the starters.

Kidd-Gilchrist misses both free throws.

Kentucky 63, South Carolina 30

9:30 Second Half
Eloy Vargas is in the game. He makes an amazing cut to the basket and caps it off with a beautiful finish. Things just officially got weird.

As if on cue with that sentiment, Twany Beckham checks in.

Kentucky 73, South Carolina 33

6:56 Second Half
The mass exodus of South Carolina fans (and even a few Kentucky fans) begins.




The "GO BIG BLUE" chant starts again. This is fun.

Kentucky 75, South Carolina 36

4:43 Second Half
Calipari puts Anthony Davis back in the game, apparently at the urging of his assistant coaches so that he could get the record and/or a triple double. Then this happened.


Calipari wisely takes Davis out of the game rather than risk him getting an injury in garbage time.  He later gets the record anyway on a block he had previously not been credited for. #Browdown

Kentucky 77, South Carolina 39

3:40 Second Half
After being chanted for by the crowd, Jared Polson goes to the scorer's table to a huge ovation. Unfortunately, he never makes it into the game.

Despite this small disappointment, the game was a huge success...and the final score was insane.



Kentucky 86, South Carolina 52

Despite our collective euphoria over this routing of our opponent, it suddenly dawns on many Kentucky fans that our basketball team was able to hold the Gamecocks to less points than our football team did.

Still, it was a great win and easily the most complete game that we had played this season.

Post Game
I see one of my former middle school students (who is a huge Kentucky fan) sitting in the student section. Karen and I go over to say hello...and take a picture with 'Blue Man.'



We then head outside and join in with the chants of "GO BIG BLUE" and "C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS!" I finish my soda (which was in a South Carolina souvenir cup) and proudly survey our newly conquered land.



We then walked the short distance back to our car and headed home.

Despite my incessant trash talking, the fans of South Carolina were very hospitable and have an incredibly nice arena. We look forward to seeing you next year...or in the SEC tournament. Either way, we'll be bringing plenty of fans with us.