HUNTINGTON - As native Kentuckians who have played in the fabled Sweet 16 high school tournament, Elijah Pittman and Tamron Manning know firsthand what a basketball cathedral Rupp Arena is.
On Saturday, they return with their Marshall Thundering Herd for a potentially special contest against the defending national champions. Certainly, they've fielded their share of questions from teammates about the building.
"It's loud, it's pretty big," said Pittman, a Covington native. "I looked up and I hadn't seen that many fans at a high school game, and I just went out there and played. I liked it."
Manning's home is closer to Lexington, in the Scott County seat of Georgetown. Not only has he played at Rupp, he has seen a few UK games and knows what to expect.
"You can expect a lot of blue," Manning said. "It will be loud, and it's a really unique atmosphere. You'll be surprised at how big the fan support is there."
Pittman led his Holmes High team to three Sweet 16s, including the 2009 state championship, while Manning led Scott County to the 2012 finals. And now, they will join their Marshall team in a return visit to Rupp Arena, battling the coaches' poll No. 23 Wildcats in a 4 p.m. contest Saturday. The game airs on ESPN2.
Here's a quick refresher on the 36-year-old building, anchor of the downtown Lexington Center: Its listed capacity these days is 23,000, which is about how many banners and retired jerseys hang from the ceiling.
This will be the fourth time a Marshall team has played at Rupp, and the first time since Nov. 16, 2001, a 90-73 UK win over coach Greg White's Herd.
The Wildcats are 11-0 vs. the Herd in all venues, which includes Louisville and Cincinnati.
And Rupp Arena, where many opponents come to lose. All-time, the Wildcats are 484-61 in the building, an 88.8 percent clip. They began the John Calipari era with an arena-record 54-game winning streak, finally broken by Baylor on Nov. 1, 64-55.
The Herd, or least coach Tom Herrion, isn't going to let a few decades of hoops history get in the way.
"It's a great opportunity," Herrion said. "What a great venue, one of most historical buildings in all of college basketball history. ... We went to Louisville, up at the half, went to Syracuse last year. We've been some places now.
"A couple of Kentucky kids who have played in the building. That's why we scheduled it."
The Herd's 64-48 win Wednesday over Savannah State marked the return of Dennis Tinnon as a scoring force inside.
The senior from Green Bay, Wis., scored 14 points, but the bigger development was his 6-of-7 shooting from the floor. He scored in several ways: a turnaround jumper on the baseline, a jumper off his steal in the backcourt, a pair of layups against the press, an old-fashioned "garbage" basket off a loose ball and a 15-foot jumper.
It was Tinnon's best game since his 24-point game against Nevada, in which he hit 9 of 12. He has had two double-doubles since then, but he didn't shoot quite that well. Against West Virginia and Cincinnati, he was a combined 0 for 7.
"It felt good. Last couple of games, I haven't showed up at all," Tinnon said. "And I was down on myself for not being able to step up and do what I have to do to help us win. Tonight, I was more focused on getting the ball and going straight up, strong, and not going up so soft and doing flimsy layups."