LAWRENCE — Kansas fans in downtown Lawrence took their team's loss to Kentucky in stride Monday night as they poured onto Massachusetts Street amid random cries of "Rock Chalk Jayhawk," with many proclaiming their pride in a team that wasn't picked to finish in the top three in the Big 12 Conference.
Storekeepers said basketball fans — students and older residents alike — began crowding the entertainment strip of bars, restaurants and specialty shops near the Kansas campus well before 5 p.m. in anticipation of a NCAA championship game against the heavily favored Wildcats.
"It's OK, because look how far they made it," Jobi Pierson, 51, from nearby McLouth, said as the final seconds ticked away on Kansas' national title hopes. "No matter what, they did well. I feel proud of them and I'm happy with what they've done."
A heavy police presence — one police officer estimated about 250 law enforcement officers were work, adding "that's not enough" — emerged at halftime and set up in groups of six along street corners to deter troublemakers. Seventy Kansas Highway Patrol troopers brought in from across the state were among the officers.
Inside the sports bars, fans stood shoulder to shoulder throughout the game, holding their arms in the air before Kansas free throws just as they would if they were inside Allen Fieldhouse. At one watch party outdoors, the game was being projected onto the brick walls of a building as people paid $5 apiece to watch.
Along the street fans watched the game through storefront windows, and some crowded around a pickup truck that had a big-screen television hooked up in the back.
After the game thousands of red-and-blue-clad basketball fans marched up Massachusetts, bringing traffic to a standstill. Shouts of "Go KU" rang out as the revelers made their way toward campus with little interference from police as drivers waited helplessly for the mass to pass.
Mark Colombel, 18, from nearby Tonganoxie, said he came to Lawrence because he wanted to be part of the crowd. At halftime, he tried to stay optimistic despite a 14-point Kansas deficit.
"I feel as if Coach (Bill) Self is best about making the halftime changes," he said. "I'm waiting for the second half to be explosive. I expect a very close game, but I'm not sure who's going to win."
As the final minutes of the game ticked away, the crowds began trickling out onto the sidewalks, more subdued than before the game but still breaking out into cheers.
For Beth Robbins, 48, of Bonner Springs, sitting outside the Replay Lounge and listening to enthusiastic shouts from inside, just being in Lawrence for the big game was enough even if she couldn't see any of the action.
"I came here to see all this excitement," she said, motioning to the milling throngs of KU fans. "Who knows when this is going to happen again?"