The same season when Kentucky might get to play its NCAA Tournament Regional games at Rupp Arena, it also will have two big regular-season home games there.
Coach Matthew Mitchell said recently that the games at the downtown venue versus Louisville (Dec. 10) and Duke (Dec. 20) weren’t at all about getting comfy on the Cats’ other home court, though.
“I just don’t think if you play four times in Rupp that you’re going to play great if you’re fortunate enough to get in the Sweet 16,” Mitchell told the Herald-Leader in July. “I just don’t think that way.”
But Mitchell has been pondering ways to build fan support and draw more fans to the women’s game by using games at Rupp Arena.
“We’ve spent more time as a program thinking about how to use Rupp effectively,” he said. “I’m just so gun shy. I just remember the days when we’d get 5,000 in Rupp and we were playing down there seven and eight times.
“Now we’ve got a little momentum there. We’ve had three straight crowds in excess of 18,000 and that is the largest game in the country in women’s basketball for that time period.”
Mitchell always has enjoyed having the Louisville game at Memorial Coliseum, he said, but the NCAA Tournament volleyball regional on the Cats’ regular home court for that date necessitated the move.
“It will be great in Rupp because both teams are very good, so it will be fine,” he said.
The nonconference schedule released on Thursday, has Kentucky facing four teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season, including three who finished in the Sweet 16.
The Cats open the season on Nov. 13 versus Rice and then heading to first-time opponent Arizona State on Nov. 15.
The Cats then host four straight home games versus Morehead State (Nov. 18), Colorado (Nov. 22), Eastern Michigan (Nov. 25) and Jackson State (Nov. 29) before making a trip to Northern Kentucky.
New to Division I, Mitchell said the trip to NKU on Dec. 2 will be fun.
“We’re trying to do our part to take our show on the road and expose people to Kentucky basketball because we are one of the exciting brands in women’s college basketball,” he said, noting that he’s hopeful the many UK fans in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati will attend.
Another part of the equation was setting up a home-and-home that won’t cost UK any guarantee money.
“We are trying to be a good partner here in the athletic department and when we can get regional home and homes that don’t cost you guarantee money,” he said. “It’s a good game for us.”
Eight days later comes the game versus Louisville, then a trip to Middle Tennessee on Dec. 13 before hosting Duke and then Tennessee State on Dec. 28 before Southeastern Conference play starts in January.
The SEC portion of the schedule is expected to be released soon.