LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Riot police used pepper spray in small amounts for crowd control as thousands of rowdy fans swarmed into the streets near the University of Kentucky campus, overturning cars and lighting couches ablaze after a victory over cross-state rival Louisville in a Final Four match-up.
Police had been bracing for the possibility of post-game violence and resorted to pepper spray though large amounts weren’t needed before they ultimately began dispersing the throngs, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.
She said 150 officers deployed on the streets at one point to quell what she called “a very dangerous situation with the fires and the violence” that dragged on for hours.
“It’s a fairly difficult situation, but not anything we didn’t plan for,” Roberts told The Associated Press.
Lexington City spokeswoman Susan Straub said police made fewer than 10 arrests, and a few injuries were reported after the celebrations turned rowdy in the streets after the Wildcats’ 69-61 win in New Orleans.
Roberts subsequently told The Lexington Herald-Leader that by 1 a.m. there had been at least 13 arrests, including several people suspected of arson. The newspaper also reported police had to dodge flying beer bottles while taking fire extinguishers to put out dozens of fires involving sofas, trash and other debris set ablaze in the streets. There were no immediate reports of any serious injuries to police.
Many streets had already been blocked off around Kentucky’s Lexington campus earlier 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 and vandalizing vehicles and others smashed glass bottles.
Straub said the crowds began to disperse by about 11 p.m., nearly three hours after the game ended. But she said at no point had things “gotten out of control.”
Roberts said a street sweeping machine was called in later at night to clean debris where crowds had departed. But authorities had no immediate report on the damages. “I think it would be hard to estimate (damages) at this point,” she 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.
The raucous street scenes triggered a 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, had earlier 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 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 before the fires were lit.
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
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 match-up this season, 69-62 on Dec. 31.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)