Fans in holiday mode in Kentucky as big game nears
By BRUCE SCHREINER
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) A few hours before Saturday's tipoff in a Final Four matchup that has the state of Kentucky in holiday mode, Kentucky and Louisville fans were getting ready for a rowdy game in bars - not to mention homes and even wedding receptions.
"We had no way of knowing that the big game would be the same day as the wedding," said Louisville fan Sean Glenn as he stood on the steps of a church near the University of Louisville campus minutes, after his cousin was wed.
Glenn, a Louisville fan, said there would be a television at the reception, and he fully expected to catch the game "here and there." While the bride wore white and the bridesmaids lavender, Glenn chose his attire to show his Cardinal pride: a red shirt and a red tie.
In downtown Louisville's entertainment district, thousands were expected to show up to watch the game, which will send the winner to the championship game in New Orleans on Monday. Hours before the game, the area was an early magnet for fans showing their team allegiance on t-shirts and hats.
"I think this is probably bigger than the championship game is going to be," said Chris Pysher of Louisville, a UK fan who was planning to watch the game in a city hotel with a mix of fans from both teams. "This is history right now in the making."
Seventy miles away, in the University of Kentucky's home of Lexington, roads around the perimeter of campus were expected to be closed as fans spilled out of bars and into the streets.
"We got here at 11 (a.m.)," Kentucky alumnus and fan Alex Fossom said from his table at the Shamrock Bar & Grille in Lexington. Fossom and his fellow Kentucky fans were playing cards to pass the time before the early evening tipoff.
In the sea of Kentucky blue, Louisville fan Brian Charles stood out from the crowd in his red Cardinals t-shirt.
"One of my buddies said, `You are a brave man,'" Charles said. "Either way, our state is going to have a team in the championship game and that's a good thing."
Back in Louisville, Papalinos Pizzeria employee James Morris IV wore the lone Kentucky blue cap in a sea of red at the restaurant on the edge of Louisville's campus. Morris said he was the object of much teasing from his co-workers and patrons alike, all Louisville fans.
"It's going to get worse before it gets better," said Morris, adding that his shift ends shortly after the game ends. "When they're sad and drunk and mad, I'll be walking out," he laughed.
Grocery stores blared cheers for the two teams as fans shopped for last-minute party supplies. Carts in one Louisville grocery store were filled with hamburgers and hot dogs, soda, beer and paper goods.
Bragging rights that could last a lifetime were on the line in the commonwealth's latest version of The Dream Game. In 1983, Louisville beat Kentucky in overtime in the 1983 NCAA Mideast Regional Finals. It was the teams' first meeting since 1959.
Both schools exhorted their students to cheer on their teams but to show restraint. Police in Louisville and Lexington planned to beef up patrols to quell any problems sparked by a bitter rivalry that divides families and neighbors.
In Lexington, police said, at least 12 sofas were set on fire in neighborhoods around campus last Sunday after the Wildcats defeated Baylor to earn their Final Four berth.
The Final Four meeting between Kentucky and Louisville, two traditional basketball powers, was sure to be a financial windfall for bars and restaurants bracing for big crowds.
At Sully's Saloon in Louisville, managers had ordered extra beer kegs - and brought in extra bouncers.
"Just like the game, it's going to be back and forth" between Louisville and Kentucky fans, said Sully's patron Maria Irvin, who settled into her spot hours before tipoff.
"It's definitely going to be intense," said Dakota Clemens, a Sully's manager. "We've already had arguments from previous games with UofL and UK fans in here together, and they weren't even playing yet."
It's the fifth time the schools have met in the NCAA tournament - the two sides split the four previous meetings.
Kentucky won the earlier matchup this season, 69-62 on Dec. 31.
Adding fuel to the fire, Louisville is coached by Rick Pitino, who is still viewed by many Wildcat fans as a turncoat.
Pitino led Kentucky to three Final Fours and won one championship, but left in 1997 to take another shot at the NBA. Now, Louisville is back in the Final Four for the second time under Pitino's tutelage.
Updated March 31, 2012