LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thousands of jubilant fans swarmed streets near the University of Kentucky campus Saturday night, setting couches ablaze and overturning cars after the Wildcats beat cross-state rival Louisville in a Final Four matchup that had riveted the state.
The throngs of screaming, cheering fans took to the streets both on and off campus following the Wildcats' 69-61 win in New Orleans. Many streets had already been blocked off around Kentucky's Lexington campus to make way for the crowds, but sirens blared and police began shutting down more streets as the blazes broke out.
Twitter feeds reported police in riot gear trying to disperse crowds that were overturning and vandalizing vehicles as well as smashing glass bottles.
Lexington city spokeswoman Susan Straub said police made fewer than 10 arrests, and a few injuries were reported.
"Things have not gotten out of control," she said in a telephone interview. By about 11 p.m. EDT – nearly three hours after the game had ended – crowds were dispersing, Straub said.
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 following Kentucky's win over Baylor to earn a Final Four berth.
"We've come at this with a significant show of force," Straub said.
Lexington police did not return repeated telephone calls.
As reports of the mayhem reached New Orleans, Micah Fielden, Kentucky's student body president, 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 more controlled when it first started, as celebrating fans streamed out. At stoplights, fans hanging out of their cars chanted "C-A-T-S" while police and firefighters watched from the sidelines.
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.
Several police officers stood nearby, chatting with students amiably. One student asked a police officer for a light of his cigarette, and an officer obliged.
Shortly afterward, the crowd dissipated and the campus was quiet.
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 campus.
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. Earlier Saturday, some guests at a wedding were preparing to watch the game at a reception that evening.
"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 after his cousin was wed.
Glenn, a Louisville fan, said there would be a television at the reception, and that 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, the entertainment district 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."
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. 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.
It was a good day for Kentucky bars and restaurants.
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.
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 matchup this season, 69-62 on Dec. 31.
Associated Press Writer Janet Cappiello contributed to this report.