University of Kentucky Wildcats greeted outside lodge; crowds rowdy at sunset on State Street

jmadden@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2014 

The University of Kentucky men's basketball team arrived Sunday night at Wildcat Coal Lodge to about 100 screaming fans who were being held back by yellow caution tape.

Players greeted fans with waves and fist pumps. Wildcat senior Jon Hood, clutching the NCAA regional trophy in one hand, showed the new hardware to a campus police officer and embraced him with his free hand.

Fans outside of the lodge were much more peaceful than those on State Street and in downtown Lexington. They shouted, yelled, held signs with player names and captured moments with cellphones and cameras. But they were disappointed when police said the team wasn't going to come back out, on orders from the coaching staff. Players waved a final farewell for the night from a third-floor window.

It was calm at the lodge, but Big Blue Nation showed another side in other parts of town. No major disorders were reported.

However, there were fires — quite a few, actually — but fan celebrations in Lexington after the University of Kentucky defeated Michigan on Sunday evening was initially more subdued.

That's not to say there weren't crowds or people running along Limestone and the surrounding areas, through front yards and living rooms after freshman guard Aaron Harrison nailed a winning three-point basket with 2.6 seconds left. All of that happened in all of those places. But fans' behavior did not ratchet up until the sun set.

Police did not go out of their way to make arrests, even for the fires, which was similar to Friday night's strategy. Officers remained in position and were prepared to react. Firefighters also were nearby. Any fires were extinguished about as quickly as they were started, but it kept officers with extinguishers and firefighters busy.

Couch fires appeared to be down, however, the same could not be said for chairs, a recliner, a mattress and trash. There were reports throughout the night about trash fires on State Street and surrounding areas.

Dave Pusey, a senior at UK from Indianapolis who watched the game at a frat house with friends, disposed of a couple of chairs in "good fun." First one then two chairs went out windows, he said.

"We set them on fire, the cops came, but it was all in good fun," Pusey said. Then they had to get to Limestone, where he and his buddies took "selfies" with police officers watching the mostly well-behaved crowd.

"It was crazy," he said. "We set things on fire, had a good time, then ran down here to be with everybody. This is the place to be, here or on State."

Before Sunday's game was over, fans on University Drive came out to their lawns to party. Officers watched the game with them.

Police were patrolling State Street and areas around it. A police officer was at every corner, and on-street parking was not allowed.

State Street and University Drive were quiet during the game. Just like Friday, fans were watching the game on porches and playing beer pong in the grass.

Lexington police and sheriff's deputies patrolled Limestone on foot before the game. Police presence there was low, but Sunday's crowd was smaller than on Friday night. As the game neared the end, the crowd increased — and so did their excitement. Fans chanted "C-A-T-S! CATS! CATS! CATS!" over the blaring televisions.

During the game, Chelsea Bolton of Lexington and Chelsee Jarrell of Paintsville, both UK students, watched at Tin Roof, at South Limestone and Maxwell Street, hugging each other and cheering with the crowd.

"I feel so freaking good about this game right now," Bolton shouted as the Cats pulled into the lead during the second half.

When Harrison hit the shot, the crowd erupted. The clock expired, and the crowds spilled out of college bars and onto Limestone, which police quickly closed to traffic.

Plenty of fans said they were shocked by the Wildcats' NCAA tournament run. And the unlikeliness made the celebration all the sweeter.

"If somebody had told me three months ago Kentucky would be in the Final Four, I would have said you were an idiot," Pusey said.

That sentiment was shared.

Simon Wool, 20, a UK sophomore studying marketing and finance, was wearing a UK jersey and running through State Street. Wool, clutching a cup in his left hand, was wearing a helmet he got from Toys "R" Us.

"This hat is a good luck charm, so I'm going to keep on wearing it until the Cats win," said Wool who described his state as "ecstatic."

"This is amazing," he said. "Words can't explain how amazing this is."

Fans shouted from the rooftops on Limestone: "We're going to the Final Four!"

Bingy Lara, who played soccer at UK and now coaches at Morehead State, came down to South Limestone to join the revelry, which was shut down after a few hours so traffic could resume. Police strategically used street sweepers to push the crowds to the sidewalks.

"I think it's great. The fan base here is the craziest I've ever seen." Lara said he picked the Cats to win in his bracket. "I think they'll go all the way."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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