City streets heat up with rowdy ’Cat fans
Posted: Monday, April 2, 2012 7:00 pm
By BRUCE SCHREINER
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Thousands of raucous fans swarmed streets near the University of Kentucky campus Saturday night, setting couches ablaze and overturning cars after the Wildcats beat cross-state rival Louisville in a Final Four matchup that had riveted the state.
The throngs of screaming fans took to the streets both on and off campus following the Wildcats’ 69-61 win in New Orleans. Many streets had already been blocked off around Kentucky’s Lexington campus to make way for the crowds, but sirens blared and police shut down more streets when the blazes broke out.
Twitter feeds reported police in riot gear moved in to disperse crowds as some people on the streets were overturning, vandalizing vehicles, and smashing glass bottles.
Lexington city spokeswoman Susan Straub said police made fewer than 10 arrests, and a few injuries were reported.
“Things have not gotten out of control,” she said in a telephone interview. By about 10 p.m. — nearly three hours after the game had ended — crowds were dispersing, Straub added.
Earlier in the week, Lexington’s mayor and UK’s president had exhorted fans to respect property and neighbors. But the city and university were prepared for a fiery celebration after police reported at least a dozen couch fires last week after Kentucky’s win over Baylor to earn a Final Four berth.
“We’ve come at this with a significant show of force,” Straub said.
Lexington police did not return repeated telephone calls.
The rowdiness in the streets brought a stern rebuke from UK spokesman Jay Blanton.
“It is unfortunate that a small number of people are using what should be a night of celebration as an excuse to attempt to tarnish the university and the community,” Blanton said in a statement. “To the extent that students are involved in any illegal activity or actions that violate the university’s student code, they will be dealt with appropriately.”
In New Orleans, Micah Fielden, Kentucky’s student body president, urged his fellow students in a tweet not to be destructive. “Let’s be smart and act like we’ve been here before,” he wrote on his Twitter feed.
The celebration was more controlled when it began as celebrating fans streamed out onto the streets. At stoplights, fans hanging out of their cars chanted “C-A-T-S” while police and firefighters watched from the sidelines.
Things were more peaceful 70 miles away in Louisville, where heartbroken Cardinals fans gathered on a closed street near campus and chanted “C-A-R-D-S” while waving a school flag.
Louisville fans were divided over whether to root for their rival in Monday’s championship game against Kansas.
“Even though it’s a Kentucky team, I hope they lose,” said Michael Funke, who watched the game from a pizzeria just off campus.
Kentucky and Louisville fans took in the game from bars, restaurants and living rooms as their uneasy co-existence was challenged by the high stakes.
Saturday’s game culminated a week of buildup in the state, with many fans recalling the “Dream Game” between the teams in 1983.
That year, Louisville beat Kentucky in overtime in the NCAA Mideast Regional Finals. It was the teams’ first meeting since 1959. It took the governor to get the two schools together on an annual basis, and before Saturday the Wildcats were 18-11 since the annual game started in 1983-84.
Saturday’s game was the fifth time the schools had met in the NCAA tournament — the two sides having split the four previous meetings.
Kentucky won the earlier matchup this season, 69-62 on Dec. 31.
Associated Press Writer Janet Cappiello contributed to this report.
Published in The Messenger 4.2.12