This past Saturday (Feb. 13) was as close to pure basketball heaven as we Lexingtonians have been in quite a long time. I hear that there was a huge party in the street when the Wildcats won the NCAA national championship in 1998, but that was before we moved here, so we can only go on hearsay. We’re happy to report, though, that we were part of all the festivities on Saturday.

Why “basketball heaven,” you ask? In the morning: ESPN College GameDay came to town, for a wildly loud show. Then, at 9:00 p.m.: our Univ. of KY Wildcats played the Tennessee Volunteers. The energy from GameDay carried over to the game, which was so loud that I had to plug my ears a few times. And it was a tough, close game … but we won in the end, which was the perfect end to our basketball day.

We’ll recap the entire food- and basketball-filled day here. I’m including the food because we ate at two of our favorite local spots … and, as we get closer to having hundreds if not thousands of friends and visitors here for the WEG, I’m going to start running occasional (local, non-chain) restaurant reviews here on the blog, along with posts on what to see/do in the area.

The day started, bright and early, at Doodles. We arrived right after it opened at 8:00 a.m., and there was hardly anyone there (we’re usually there a bit later, when it’s more crowded and louder). Doodles is in a former gas station, which gives it kind of a funky, modern vibe (and, yes, the restrooms are outside). They serve fantastic breakfasts and lunches, and the music is always dance-worthy (whether it’s ’80s-music day, ’50s or ’60s music, beach music, etc.).

“the cure”: a perfect, basic breakfast of eggs, sausage, cheesy grits, and toast

the Doodles version of huevos rancheros (eggs, black beans, homemade salsas, and a dollop of sour cream on corn tortillas), before …

… and after

… and you have to try the beignets

the Doodles gang on Saturday morning

After breakfast, we headed over to Rupp Arena. The doors opened at 8:30 a.m. for the 11 o’clock live College GameDay broadcast, but we didn’t think we needed to be there quite that early!

We found our seats (way up in the upper level, behind the GameDay set) and then kept busy with taking some photos and admiring the many creative costumes and signs. We saw this fan …

it’s a UK-blue storm trooper … with a working light saber, no less!

… and Gumby, a gorilla, a cat (or a bear, I’m not sure), several people entirely in lycra (UK blue and one in fluorescent green), and a guy in a cone-shaped (Asian style) hat painted UK blue, with “The Great Wall” on it.

Tickets for this event were free if one stood in line to get them, or about $5 if ordered online. I hear they sold out within about half a day. It looked to us like there were a lot more kids, families, and college students than are usually at the games. And because Kentuckians are inordinantly proud of such things: the previous ESPN GameDay attendance record was somewhere around 8,000 … which we shattered with a crowd of more than 22,000.

the ESPN GameDay set in Rupp Arena, a couple of hours before the show was to start

Starting about an hour before the 11:00 broadcast, GameDay’s Digger Phelps started getting the crowd hyped up and loud. The band played, the cheerleaders and dancers did their thing, and we in the crowd screamed and yelled and clapped as loudly as we could. They coached us on what our role would be during the broadcast: to cheer REALLY LOUDLY when they told us (coming out of and going into commercial breaks and at various other times), and then to listen to the show and respond as appropriate.

the view from our upper-level seats, while the crowd arrives for GameDay

And then Digger Phelps danced while the pep band played.

GameDay’s Digger Phelps dancing with the UK dance team

Here’s a link to a video of his dancing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zabwPJeso7k

When the show finally started, all 22,000+ people REALLY got into the spirit of the thing. We had taped the program and watched it later in the afternoon … what fun it was!

GameDay is starting!

UK’s Coach Cal being interviewed on GameDay

after GameDay finished, the crowd stayed for a few more festivities … here, a bunch of former Wildcat stars are introduced to the fans and, as you can see, photographed

Before heading back to round 2 of “basketball heaven,” we stopped at our favorite neighborhood sushi restaurant, Tomo, for some …

gyoza …

… and some of the best sushi in town (left to right: a veggie veggie roll, a tempura roll, seared white tuna, and yellowtail and behind that, king crab)

Once again, we got to Rupp Arena well before game time. It’s always fun to watch the shoot-around and introductions and opening festivities (including fireworks!).

the team gathers at the end of the shoot-around

our freshman phenom, John Wall, shooting a free throw

the cheerleaders, the Wildcat, and a really big flag … everyone stands and cheers as this entire ensemble pivots to face each side of the arena

After a tough but exciting game, the Cats had won! After each home game, one player and then the coach come to the radio broadcast table for radio interviews. These have become so popular that an estimated 5,000 or so people stay to watch and listen (and to try to get basketballs autographed).

the GameDay cast doing their wrap-up broadcast after the game, while a large crowd gathers for the radio show

Coach Calipari signing basketballs during break in his radio show

nearly the entire long side of the arena (and part of the upper level as well) filled with people who had stayed to watch a radio broadcast … at 11:30 p.m.

And there you have it … a long but exciting basketball day. We’ll let you know how the Cats do in March!