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Video: Coach Cal speaks at campout

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Karl-Anthony Towns and his UK teammates handed out pizza to eager fans on Thursday night at the Big Blue Madness campout. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns and his UK teammates handed out pizza to eager fans on Thursday night at the Big Blue Madness campout. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics

Since 1950, 201 Avenue of Champions has served as the home of Memorial Coliseum. This week, though, thousands of UK fans have made the address their own temporary home as they anxiously await the ticket distribution for Big Blue Madness.

Tickets will be made available to the public Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7 a.m. at the Memorial Coliseum ticket office and online at Ticketmaster.com. But for the fans that have been living out of the estimated 770 tents -- an all-time record -- lining north campus sidewalks, the pecking order has already been determined.

At 5 a.m. on Wednesday it was a frantic pursuit for the finest camping spots that the University of Kentucky has to offer.

Shane Johnson of Seymour, Ind., who is a first-time Big Blue Madness camper, illustrates the scene as something far more than chaotic.

"It was like seeing as a crowd of people running hysterically from a tornado," Johnson said.

Like Johnson, Many Cats fans arrived days in advance as they lined Avenue of Champions, Rose Street and Lexington Avenue. The daily grind of life outdoors may take some getting used to, but it is all worth it in the end for the hottest free ticket of the year among the Big Blue Nation.

Rick Osborne, who made the trip from Harlan County, said his family has multiple spots in line.

"This is a family event for us," Osborne said. "But you certainly could not get an experience like this with all the other fans without camping out. Don't get me wrong, there are hardships that come with it, but it's too good of a time to not come out here."

And getting to spend a week with the 2014-15 Kentucky men's and women's basketball teams making consistent appearances has to be at least worth the price of admission, right?

"It is really nice to just be around them," Johnson said. "Seeing them go to and from class and having them stop by to spend a little time with us fans, it's great. We get to see them on the court once the season starts, but this is a different experience getting a small look at their lifestyle."


Fans will get a glimpse of what will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball on Oct. 17 at 7:00 p.m. A month from the annual open practice at Rupp Arena, they're already buzzing.

"After seeing them in the Bahamas last month, my expectations are very high," said Scott Mattingly of Lebanon, Ky. "I knew they weren't going to go 40-0 last year. But this year is different, and I think everyone - all the experts - is scared to give them that same hype. So I'm just excited to see it all play out."

The Cats amassed a 5-1 record during an eight-day span on their Big Blue Bahamas tour against teams from around the world that were made up of primarily professional talent.

So, there is not much the UK faithful does not have to be excited about, and that was once again demonstrated this week.

Look no further than the record-breaking crowd at the annual campout.

These people use their vacation days to take as much as a week away from work. They sleep in tents crammed beside complete strangers. But they all have one thing in common: love for Kentucky basketball.

"There is no other fan base like it. It's special," Mattingly said. "Now that we are all settled in out here, we have all come together to support our team."

Video: Cats visit campers, deliver pizza

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Video: Volleyball hands out City BBQ to campers

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UK's focus internal during bye week

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With an open date coming on Saturday, Kentucky has no immediate opponent to prepare for.

Instead, the Wildcats are working to improve.

"We had a good practice," D.J. Eliot said on Wednesday. "Harping on fundamentals. Everybody's getting reps and a lot of the younger players got reps all this week and we're just focusing on us, focusing on us getting better and harping on the little things."

For Eliot's defense, that starts against the run.

UK allowed 237 rushing yards - 156 by big back Matt Jones - in a triple-overtime loss to Florida on Saturday. The Gators gained 4.7 yards per carry, often relying on a straightforward game the Cats know they have to be able to stop.

"For us, it was defending the power run game and how quick we read it, how quick we triggered and how physical we were at the point of attack," Eliot said.

If it wasn't Jones doing the damage for Florida, it was typically wide receiver Demarcus Robinson making UK pay in the passing game. He piled up 15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant performance, but Eliot saw plenty the Cats could have done about it on film.

"The longest pass he caught went off our cornerback's shoulder pads," Eliot said. "So it was a lot of stuff that we could have prevented, you know what I mean? It was really a lot of stuff that we could prevent. Give him credit. He's an excellent player and they executed some good plays, but what we need to improve on is our assignments and our technique in coverage."

Though there was room for improvement, it's not as if there weren't positives. Florida managed only 20 points before overtime against a UK defense that still hasn't allowed a first-half touchdown.

"Ultimately on defense, you gotta keep them out of the end zone," Eliot said. "You can give up yards and you can not play perfect, but you gotta keep them out of the end zone. And so we've been able to do that this season and in that game during regulation."

Perhaps the best example was on Florida's first drive of the fourth quarter.

Following a Patrick Towles interception, the Gators got the ball on their own 15. They methodically moved the ball downfield, eventually having a first and 10 at the UK 25 and seeming poised to score what would have been a back-breaking touchdown to build on a 20-17 lead.

Instead, the Cats stopped Jones for two three-yard gains and forced a Jeff Driskel incompletion and a field-goal attempt. The Gators would miss and UK would force overtime.

"To do that, you've gotta be good in situations and situations are third-down defense, the red-zone defense, the two-minute defense and those are the things that you have to be successful at - their turnovers - the things you have to be successful at to play good defense and to play good scoring defense," Eliot said.

Wednesday afternoon tent count: 680

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Not even 12 hours into the annual campout for Big Blue Madness tickets, approximately 680 tents have popped up around Memorial Coliseum.

The 3:30 p.m. Wednesday count is up about 30 from this morning and 10 behind the pace of last year's record-setting campout. The majority of the new tents are on Stoll Field. That's also where most new campers will set up before our next count on Thursday morning. Last year, more than 60 new tents were set up on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

More is in store leading up to Saturday morning's ticket distribution, but UK fans were treated to visits by John Calipari and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Thursday.



And in the early favorite for cutest moment of the week, fan Scott Charlton tweeted this photo. This is what it's all about.


2014 campout matching last year's record pace

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Fans wait to set up tents at the 2014 Big Blue Madness campout on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Fans wait to set up tents at the 2014 Big Blue Madness campout on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The record is in danger yet again.

The annual campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness began at 5 a.m. on Wednesday. Just four-and-a-half hours later, approximately 650 tents had surrounded Memorial Coliseum. The 9:30 a.m. count matches last year's record-setting pace exactly. The final tent count for the 2013 was 755.

Tent City was mostly calm during the Wednesday count, with many campers getting some much-needed rest after an early-morning wake-up call. That figures to change in the coming days with a pleasant weather forecast and visits in store from a number of UK teams and coaches. The first will be from John Calipari, who will tour the campout at 1 p.m. on Wednesday to give away dozens of Tempur-Pedic pillows and a mattress to one lucky fan.

Those who were awake were eager to talk. Passing through the annual campout with pen and paper, it doesn't long for fans to figure out I'm counting tents, which always leads to a conversation. I typically end the conversation by telling fans to have a good day. One response to that, in particular, struck me.

"Can't beat this day," a fan said.

The Big Blue Madness campout, truly, has taken on a life of its own.

Check a photo gallery from Wednesday morning.



Video: 2014 Big Blue Madness campout begins

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