Some temporarily disrupt traffic, start fires as fans celebrate UK win, jkegley@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2012 

  • The lucky few

    The online registration period for the NCAA University of Kentucky Final Four Lottery closed Friday. Eligible students were notified Saturday. Tickets will distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Monday.

The blackened remains of several sofas littered sidewalks in the area of University and State streets, and Lexington police cruisers sat near every intersection for several blocks as fans celebrated UK's Sunday win.

But aside from a few furniture fatalities, downtown streets were mostly filled with blue-clad fans honking, whooping and hollering, apparently saving their full fanaticism for the after-party Saturday, when — they are convinced — Kentucky will beat Louisville.

"The Baylor game was such a blowout, everyone is saving their energy" for the Final Four, said Elizabeth Mondelli, who watched the game at Two Keys Tavern with her friend Pamela Henderson.

Even the post-win vandalism, which has come to be expected, was met with a bit of a collective shrug.

"When we win, people burn stuff," said Sarah Chinberg, a UK student who captured a cellphone image of one of the three or four fires she saw in the streets.

Shortly after the game ended about 5 p.m., fans flowed into the streets, closing Limestone at Avenue of Champions and the intersection of Woodland and Euclid avenues. Hundreds of fans hugged, high-fived and chanted as traffic sat still behind cones and police cars (although, judging from the honks and cheers from inside the cars, drivers were in no hurry to get going). Within 20 minutes, Woodland had opened, and by 6 p.m., the crowds at Limestone had thinned.

Shortly after, police opened the area around State Street.

University of Kentucky and Lexington Division of Police officers kept an eye on the crowds. The crowd was large, but it was "manageable," UK police chief Joe Monroe said. "We're just out here to make sure everyone celebrates safely and responsibly." Lexington police Lt. Mark Brand said there were no major problems or mass arrests.

The same streets had been almost empty as the 2:20 p.m. tip-off drew near.

Adam Finke, 25, was at the Tin Roof, the site of one of the biggest celebrations.

"The atmosphere here is like nothing else," he said. "We're all Cats fans, we're all cheering for the same thing. It's awesome."

There also were crowds at Pazzo's, Hugh Jass Burgers, Two Keys and The Local Taco, a restaurant and bar that opened in September.

More than 200 people at the Kentucky Theatre cheered the team on the very big screen — the biggest in town, according to the sign out front — as if the Cats could hear them in Atlanta.

"It's just an awesome energy," said Lisa Conley, a doctoral student in sociology at UK. A self-described fair-weather fan, Conley was excited to share the game with a rowdy crowd for the first time. "It's just a part of the Kentucky culture," she said.

The crowd was on its feet when UK first scored in the second half. Fans cheered Anthony Davis as he walked off the court in pain with a banged-up knee. They fell silent when the Cats went scoreless for several long minutes.

It didn't take long for the talk to turn to the next game with in-state rival, the University of Louisville.

Even as a casual fan, Conley knew the importance of facing Louisville in the next round. The victory would be, she said, "a little bit sweeter."

"The whole state is going to shut down," said Michael Sibley who watched at the Kentucky. And who did he think would win?

"Who do you think?" he said, laughing with friends. "We are going to be drunk for a week."

On South Limestone, the only sign of violence was when a woman pulled off a man's University of Louisville shirt and drop-kicked it into the street.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Blog: Twitter: @bgmoms.

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