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Disappointment caps wild night for KU fans in Lawrence

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 2, 2012, at 6:35 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

— Throngs of disappointed KU fans filed out of downtown bars here Monday night, cursing the Kentucky Wildcats who defeated the Jayhawks in an emotional national championship game.

The jeers started in the second half as the game appeared to slip out of reach for KU, but the crowds built to a frenzy as the Jayhawks mounted a comeback. It fell short in what would become a 67-59 Kentucky victory.

Billy Sanders, a 24-year-old KU math teacher who stood in the middle of a packed Harbor Lights bar on Mass Street, wrapped both hands around the back of his neck as Kentucky hit free throws putting the game out of reach.

"It was a little bit of a letdown," he said. "But it happens."

Fans in the bar applauded their team for a few minutes after the loss and then chanted "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" as people filed out.

Then tens of thousands of people – some quietly disgusted, some thankful their team made it as far as they did, some apparently overwhelmed by a wild night on Massachusetts Street – flowed through the streets as their team’s season ended one game short of college basketball ecstasy.

Sam Polise, a Kansas City resident who went to school at KU, said he was happy that Kansas made a game of it in the second half. He said the team still had a great year.

"Had we lost to Purdue in the second round, I would have said it was a sensational season," he said.

The loss capped a wild night in Lawrence. But, despite a couple fights, the streets remained relatively peaceful as people finished off cups of beer, traded high-fives for a great season and struggled to track down friends.

In the hours leading up to the game, Mass Street pulsated with energy as hundreds of people staked out bar stools and tables, and public safety officials geared up for the potential pandemonium.

Josh Aliesch, director of operations for Fortney Hospitality Group Inc., which owns Brothers Bar and Grill on Mass Street, said the bar maxed out its space an hour or so before the Elite Eight game against North Carolina and the Final Four game versus Ohio State. He said the bar does about triple the business it gets on a normal weekend night.

Aliesch brought workers from other Brothers establishments in Iowa and Nebraska to handle the crowd.

Lawrence police expected as many as 50,000 people downtown for the game, and officers said they would focus on people’s safety and property damage issues as crowds poured out into the street after the game, said Sgt. Trent McKinley.

Police had the experience of Kansas’ 2008 national championship and two victories in the late rounds of the NCAA tournament this year.

After each game, thousands of people poured onto Mass Street shouting, chanting, high-fiving and guzzling plastic cups of beer. Police largely focused on preventing violence, keeping people off rooftops and intervening when people tried to get their cars off the street to protect them from damage. That held true Monday night as well.

At least one car was badly damaged after the Final Four game Saturday night when about 15 people jumped on top of it in celebration, breaking the windshield and pummeling the roof and hood. But police say the SUV’s driver was among those jumping on top and may have encouraged it.

"We’re always going to have those kinds of deals," Sgt. McKinley said, noting a few other instances of minor damage. "Everybody was very well behaved."

Lawrence planned to have all 147 of its officers on duty Monday, and most were assigned to the downtown area. Officers from nearby cities also helped, pushing the police presence to about 250 downtown, McKinley said.

Police logged about six postgame arrests downtown after the Ohio State game Saturday, which is about what police expect on any Saturday night, McKinley said. At least one person was arrested following a fight that was filled with racial slurs Monday night.

Police retained the right to enforce city and state laws banning drinking in the streets, although they didn’t actively enforce those laws during or immediately after the game. Police did, however, enforce laws banning glass containers and sealed cans, which can become dangerous if thrown.

Officers understand people’s excitement.

"We’re fans, too," McKinley said.

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