University of Kentucky fans take loss in stride

jkegley@herald-leader.com, awilson1@herald-leader.comApril 3, 2011 

As the last minutes of the Kentucky-Connecticut game came to a close, Wildcat fans inside Two Keys Tavern were on edge. It was a tight game that brought deafening cheers at times. But as it became clear that the Huskies were going to defeat the Wildcats, it fell quiet. There were no cries of anger. No shouts of frustration. Dozens of fans just walked out of the bar quietly.

"I guess we'll just drown our sorrows like the rest of the town of Lexington — the safe way to deal with this," Paul Stephenson, 23, said of the 56-55 loss.

Outside the bars, about 60 officers, wearing full riot gear and armed with paintball guns or batons, stood along South Limestone in formation, waiting for the crowds to disperse.

But the fans didn't create any disturbance. Half stuck around Limestone. The other half walked off, many saying they were headed home.

By 11:50 p.m., police reopened Limestone, which was closed hours earlier in anticipation of the large crowds that could have spilled onto the street.

Moments later, the officers retreated, taking off their helmets.

Several fans walked down the street, shocked that UK had lost by one point.

"I had just gotten over last year's loss in the NCAA Tournament," Allison Hord said. "I keep going over what would have happened if they would have missed the free throw or if we would have made a free throw."

About a dozen fans went to the Casablanca Hookah Lounge and started dancing to the house music.

Hicham Lazrek, the owner, comforted some of the dancers. He said he wanted people to relax, but he didn't want them to come in and start breaking stuff.

"I don't care that the Cats lose. I love Coach Cal (John Calipari). I love this team," Lazrek said.

Justin Higgins said he planned to keep celebrating because the season was a great season, especially since they lost to a great team at the end.

"They'll be back, and we'll support them when they get back," he said.

All indications were that it was going to be a peaceful night. Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said there had been no arrests as of midnight.

Lexington police had made a special effort to monitor the city celebration that began at 1 p.m., said Roberts. She said more than 100 officers had been assigned to game-day enforcement in the downtown area alone.

Things were certainly more lively earlier Saturday, when lines to get into the bars had stretched around the block after the businesses had filled with early partiers. There also were lines that started to form at 9 a.m., two hours before the bars opened.

Hope Couch and Veronica House said they stayed up late Thursday night to make "magical" capes from blue fabric and UK duct tape so they could swoop in and be the first of 75 people in line before Two Keys opened at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Couch and House, both in blue-and-white striped overalls, nabbed a large rectangular table and four round ones for buddies from Versailles and Clay County.

"We had to do it," said Couch, 22, of Versailles. "It was all for the Cats."

It was all for the Cats: the glitter, the bubbles, the crepe paper, the lines, the semi-lewd T-shirts, the drinking.

And it was that way all up and down South Limestone between Maxwell and Avenue of Champions on Saturday afternoon, hours before the UK-UConn game.

Everyone seemed on board with the day's agenda. Witness Lisa Lewis, Louisville Cardinal fan. She had on a "Billy Clyde for President" shirt that she bought in the $1 bin.

"Go Cats," she said. "Everybody's a fan today."

Things were even rocking over the Kennedy Bookstore, 405 South Limestone, where manager Sarah Andreotta said the store was working on its second order of Final Four merchandise.

She called it "a great day" for sales, saying that lots of former students were coming in to get memorabilia.

John Cheves contributed to this report.

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