By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky fans normally are not enamored with anything that current Auburn coach Bruce Pearl says. Maybe it goes back to his time when he was the head coach at Tennessee. Or maybe not.
After Auburn lost Saturday at Kentucky, Pearl was asked what it meant to him to coach in Rupp Arena. His answer is one I think UK fans had to appreciate — and maybe even approve of.
“Listen, I spent nine years as Southern Indiana’s head coach and I thought the closest I was ever going to get to Rupp Arena and coach might have been a sports center in Owensboro, Kentucky and for those of you who have been there, you know what I’m talking about. That is a great place to coach but you’re Division II and you might buy a ticket to come watch a game in Rupp,” Pearl said.
“I saw the Final Four in here (when Villanova beat Georgetown) a bunch of years ago, didn’t have very good seats. So it was a dream to coach in here.”
His first time in Rupp as head coach at Tennessee he won thanks to play of Chris Lofton, a guard from Mason County that then UK coach Tubby Smith didn’t recruit.
“How many guys come into Rupp and win? It was one of the highlights of my career. I was so excited I took my shirt off. That was back when it might have actually been worth taking off but it’s not worth it anymore,” Pearl said.
“And then when I walked out on to the court, and I just want to say this for the fans that were there, they cheer, they give you an ovation or a hand, recognize you.”
Pearl admitted there were a few times his teams have not played well at Rupp Arena, including Saturday.
“I actually apologize to Kentucky fans who know their basketball and I’m sure they’re happy Kentucky won, think they were probably expecting a little more out of this Auburn team than they got and so I felt kind of uncomfortable going out there to that kind of applause because of how my team played, the way I coached,” Pearl said.
“It wasn’t up to the standards of being at the opportunity to coach here.”