LEXINGTON — Unlike UK’s previous home games against no-name opponents this season, Rupp Arena was loaded with energy and excitement last Saturday.
An emotional crowd of 24,396 — ninth largest in Rupp Arena history — saw the youthful Wildcats overcome the experienced U of L Cardinals 73-66 in arguably college basketball’s most-intense rivalry.
One person who witnessed the loud and electrically-charged atmosphere in the annual Battle of the Bluegrass was Tracy Wolfson, a well-known sideline reporter for the CBS TV network who covered the UK-U of L showdown.
Interestingly, it was Wolfson’s first-ever trip to Rupp Arena even though she’s been to Lexington previously for her college football assignments.
The pleasant and friendly reporter — who grew up in Rockland County, which is a part of the New York City metropolitan area — came home really impressed with the game atmosphere.
“I was in awe of the scene,” she told this columnist. “To me it felt like a March Madness game, not a regular season basketball game. (It) showed how important this rivalry is to this state.”
When she revealed 90 minutes before the game tipoff that it was her first time at spacious Rupp Arena, I was really surprised.
But that doesn’t mean Wolfson hasn’t covered UK basketball games before. She has seen the Wildcats play away from Lexington, including the NCAA tournament games, in the past.
I also remember seeing her in Lexington during the memorable 2007 football campaign when coach Rich Brooks guided the Wildcats to a 8-5 record, including victories over No. 1 LSU (in three overtimes) and Florida State (in the Music City Bowl).
Along with CBS broadcasters Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson, Wolfson covered the Kentucky home games with LSU and Florida (which had QB Tim Tebow) on two consecutive Saturdays that year.
She remembers one particular chaotic scene in the Commonwealth Stadium just moments after the Wildcats had shocked LSU 43-37 and the fans were storming the field in a big celebration.
“I somehow was able to make my way to (Kentucky QB) Andre Woodson to do the interview but my camera couldn’t make it at first,” said Wolfson, who is a graduate of University of Michigan with a degree in communications.
“They (the network) shot it from high up and the picture was a sea of blue.”
Wolfson — who began her on-air broadcasting career in 2000 at WZBN-TV in Trenton, N.J., as a sports anchor, reporter and producer — often uses social media. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
After the Kentucky-Louisville matchup, Wolfson tweeted, “Calipari’s young Cats get a huge win and bragging rights over Louisville. And without Julius Randle for the 2nd half. 73-66 final.”
Now married with three young kids, Wolfson loved sports when she was growing up and had dreams of being a sideline reporter.
“I played almost everything,” she said.
Wolfson played basketball in high school, but she eventually quit after realizing that she would never be taller than 5-foot-2. She also played varsity tennis for four years.
As a young child, she ironically got interested in sports because of her parents’ rocky marriage.
“They would fight and I would hide myself in my room,” recalled Wolfson, who also told this fascinating story to the Communication Studies graduates at the University of Michigan several years ago. “The TV tuned in to either a baseball game or a sports show. My favorite was the ‘NBA Inside Stuff.’ (And) I remember watching (network TV) host Willow Bay and saying to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I was eight at the time.”
As you can see, her dream has come true and you’ll see her covering the NFL playoffs on the field in the next few weekends.
And perhaps the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Final Four in early April.