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April 4, 2012

Fans swarm Rupp Arena to celebrate title with team

As the 2012 NCAA men's basketball champions stepped off the bus into Rupp Arena for Tuesday's championship celebration, some players videotaped the reception they received from fans.

About 20,000 fans in a sold-out Rupp Arena cheered and applauded the state's first championship in 14 years.

"It is second to none, the UK atmosphere," said Mike Deaton, a 43-year-old who drove over 100 miles Tuesday to see the Wildcats. "Just like Coach (John) Calipari said last night, 5,000 people showed up to a practice once and that's unheard of."

UK announced Monday that a team celebration would be held at Rupp Arena. Tickets went on sale at 8 a.m. Tuesday. By noon, all general admission tickets were gone.

"We have the best fans, I think they could play in Canada and we would all go and watch them," Kristyn Higdon, 19, said. "It's a big deal, I've always been all UK and to actually see it happen is pretty awesome."

Higdon watched the game at a friend's house Tuesday but hit State Street to celebrate after the game. Higdon said she visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras earlier this year and said State Street was wilder on Monday night.

"I never felt unsafe, my friend and me stayed together so I was okay," Higdon said.

Fire officials said they put out over 40 fires Monday night and around 20 people were sent to the hospital.

There were no fires at Rupp Arena Tuesday, just a raucous group of Cats fans wanting to congratulate their national champions.

"I love this team," Higdon said. "Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is my favorite."

Deaton realized it could be the last time the fans will see some UK players in Rupp Arena.

"I'd like to see a couple come back, but I wish them the best," Deaton said. "This is their chance to take care of their families for life."

The team was introduced one-by-one as they stepped off the bus, followed by the coaching staff. Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart spoke to the fans before handing the microphone to Calipari.

Calipari started by telling fans UK won the championship because they had the best players and the best team. He was quickly interrupted by loud cheers and a standing ovation. The cheers were so deafening, one lifelong fan thought it was the loudest he had ever heard Rupp Arena.

Senior guard Darius Miller, the only player to speak, spent his time at the podium thanking the fans for helping the team along the way.

"We just want to thank you all for all the support," he said. "You did a great job. No matter where we went, every gym we played in, you all were there. We really appreciate that."

Calipari talked about why his team was the best in the nation. But Tony Brown, a first year member of the Committee of 101, knew that long before Calipari said so.

"I thought they had a real good shot (all year)," Brown said. "I think especially after the North Carolina game and the Louisville Final Four game. Those were my favorite games this season."

A season that started at Rupp Arena on Oct. 14, 2011 for Big Blue Madness was put to an end after the 2012 NCAA Championship banner was raised on Tuesday in the place it all began.

The fans will have to wait six months before returning to Rupp Arena but Brown remains confident the Cats can do it again next season.

"(Calipari) will have another good team next year with the recruits he has coming in," Brown said. "To coach all these freshman and sophomores like he did was unbelievable."


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