What makes playing at Rupp Arena so tough?

Surging Vanderbilt (11-4, 0-2 SEC) meets No. 9 Kentucky Wednesday at Rupp Arena, a venue in which no Commodore team has ever won a regular-season game. What makes Rupp Arena so tough for opposing teams? Senior Commodore guard Jason Holwerda talks about the mystique of going up against Kentucky in the basketball-crazy Bluegrass State.

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Vanderbilt senior guard Jason Holwerda answered the following questions, posed by members of the Kentucky-based print media, at SEC Media Days.

Q: Jason, Coach Stallings has said that when you play a team like Kentucky at Rupp Arena, if you played them 35 times, they might beat you 33. But you just have to play them twice, and you can beat them twice. That's how you have to approach it in the short-term. Is that the kind of thing he preaches to you?

Jason Holwerda: Well, not necessarily that specifically, but I've said it before and I'll say it again, he's the best X's and O's guy I've ever seen, bar none, just because he knows the game so well. He knows how to get a team up for a game, and for that moment. If you can live in the moment, then you can be successful. He does preach that, and it seems to translate well to us.

Q: Do you enjoy playing in Rupp Arena?

A: Do I enjoy it? (Laughs) I've got kind of mixed emotions, because our record is not so good there. It's an incredible atmosphere. I think I'd enjoy it a lot more if I was wearing blue, just because the crowd is so overwhelming when you're the opposition. It's definitely an experience, to say the least.

Q: Some Kentucky players said they felt like the Vanderbilt crowd was overwhelming when they came there last year.

A: I don't doubt it. We had a nice crowd last year, and we always do when we play Kentucky. But in that regard, I think we've got similar home gyms, in that ours was formerly a theater for opera, and it's got those great acoustics. So when people start yelling, it gets really loud in there, just like Rupp Arena.

Q: That game against Kentucky in Nashville last year when you won, 66-60... what did that do for you guys?

A: Well, number one, I think it kind of solidified the fact that we were a legitimate NCAA team, and number two, it gave us a lot of confidence going into the rest of the Southeastern Conference season. That was probably the top team in the league last year, and we just knocked them off, so who can't we beat?

Q: When that happens, I don't know why it is, but Kentucky fans kind of think, gosh, Kentucky? Lose to Vanderbilt? That can't happen. But do you think it will ever get to a point where that stigma is gone? Kentucky and Vanderbilt... do you think that's how it will be in another 20 years?

A: I sure hope so. I hope I'm part of the cornerstone to that. I think Kentucky will always be Kentucky. They've got a list two pages long of SEC championships. I don't' remember the last time they lost one. So yeah, for good reason people say that. But I'm hoping Vanderbilt can turn it around, and I hope I can be one of the cornerstones to that. Maybe someday people will be able to look back and say, that's where it all changed.

Q: Is there a player for Kentucky that you've always admired, or that you've always enjoyed playing against?

A: Chuck Hayes. I think he's one of my favorite players in the SEC, and he has been since my sophomore year. I think he's the backbone of that team, but doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's an excellent player-- I'll just leave it at that.

Q: When you play Kentucky, what's the hardest thing about playing them?

A: At Rupp Arena?

Q: Just anywhere. Is there one constant about a Tubby Smith team, no matter whether you play them, in Nashville or in Lexington?

A: I think the obvious answer is their defense, just trying to play offense against those guys. They play a man-to-man defense, and it seems really simple, just playing them one-on-one. But boy, when you get out there, it seems like there's six or seven guys trying to swarm you and take the ball from you. And that's combined with the crowd, so Rupp is a tough place to play.

Q: You keep up with other teams' recruiting, and you mentioned you were familiar with Kentucky's recruiting class last year. Is that just because it's Kentucky, or do you pride yourself on keeping up with who's recruiting whom?

A: I'm kind of a sports nut. I watch SportsCenter every morning and try to keep up. I watched their Midnight Madness last year and saw a few of their guys, which is how I knew they had a really good freshman class.

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