Disappointed fans in downtown Lawrence: KU simply got 'outplayed' but 'we'll be back' next year

Kansas basketball fans walk on Massachusetts St. after the Jayhawks played in the Final Four on Saturday, March 31, 2018. The city closed the street to traffic and parking temporarily. KU lost to Villanova, 95-79.

Kansas basketball fans walk on Massachusetts St. after the Jayhawks played in the Final Four on Saturday, March 31, 2018. The city closed the street to traffic and parking temporarily. KU lost to Villanova, 95-79.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

As the last seconds ticked down in Saturday night’s Final Four game, a lot of University of Kansas fans at Jefferson’s in downtown Lawrence were barely paying attention.

They’d been checked out for a while.

KU never led after the first basket, trailed by more than 10 the entire second half. With foe Villanova turning in a record-setting performance, the downtown Lawrence crowd’s hopefulness of celebrating a Final Four win with a massive street party — which the city had painstakingly prepared for — seemed to slip away long before the final buzzer.

The mood on Massachusetts Street after the loss, however, wasn’t angry.

Many fans seemed to digest this fact quickly afterward, put simply by Hunter Miller, a KU junior from Olathe: “We got outplayed.”

“I wish it would have been a better game,” Miller said — and then began discussing the potential of next year’s recruits. “We’ll be back!”

Miller’s sentiments were shared by many.

After all, Villanova set the record for the most 3-pointers scored in a Final Four game.

“They just dropped 3, after 3, after 3. You can’t match that,” said Kevin Dark, Lecompton. “But, hey, we were never supposed to go past the Sweet 16, so I’m happy... We’ve been here before; we’ll be here again.”

Dark was waiting in line to get into a nightclub after the game. Nearby, another fan was wondering aloud, “Why did they have so many magnets on the basketball goal?”

Also in line was KU junior and football player Antonio Cole, also feeling good about the whole season and proud of the team.

“There’s a lot of support still,” said Cole, from Edmond, Okla. “We haven’t made the Final Four in a while.”

•••

Not since 2012, at least.

And Lawrence had prepared for a street party the likes of which the city hasn’t seen since 2008, when an estimated 40,000 people packed Massachusetts Street after KU won the national championship.

Massachusetts Street was closed to cars since 5 a.m.

All day, people were walking and chalking.

Near a crosswalk in the 700 block, 2008 KU graduate Chris Munoz, of Chicago, was channeling KU basketball nostalgia earlier on Saturday, scrawling “Here for the cheers, beers and title!!”

“I come back for March Madness every year,” he said. “I was here for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and returned for the Final Four.”

He would watch the game at his college hangout of Harbour Lights, Munoz said.

“I watched the 2008 championship game there,” he said. “I was standing on a pool table when we won. There was beer thrown everywhere.”

A steady stream of pedestrians filled the sidewalks on both sides of Massachusetts Street late in the afternoon, and lines began to form at the entrances of downtown bars.

Shortly after 4 p.m., any guests leaving the Red Lyon Tavern were immediately replaced by those waiting outside. David Workman, of Lawrence, still had three people ahead of him in line, but he was confident he would soon get into the tavern, which has been his game-day destination since 1993.

“They have to let me in. I have the second-half salsa,” he said of the sauce he carried in a plastic container.

The Kansas Sampler store at 921 Massachusetts St. was just as popular as the bars. Its aisles were filled with shoppers browsing the latest Final Four gear.

“Today, that cash register was just crazy,” Kansas Sampler clerk Jirick Hunter said. “We don’t usually have all four cash registers open, but we did today and everyone was ringing.”

Shortly before tipoff, a line to get into the watch party at Liberty Hall snaked down the street and around the corner all the way to New Hampshire Street.

More than 200 law enforcement officers from more than 20 area agencies, according to the Lawrence Police Department, were waiting in the wings to handle crowd control.

Toward the end of the game, as law enforcement took up posts along the street, it was already clear they weren’t going to be needed for the kind of crowd control everyone had hoped.

•••

With about 20 minutes left in the game’s second half, Laura Klein and her friends stepped outside to enjoy the night air — and some open-air libations.

“Now we’re just taking advantage of the fact that we can drink on the street corner and watch the madness unfold,” Klein said, plastic cup of beer on hand.

But there wasn’t much madness to observe from Klein’s perch outside the Third Planet, 846 Massachusetts St., even as crowds began to exit bars post-game around 10 p.m. Klein and her friends sipped their beers quietly with a group of police officers standing just feet away.

As a downtown merchant, Klein said she was “bummed” to see KU lose.

Back in 2008, the year of KU’s last national championship win, enrollment at the university “spiked,” Klein recalled. March Madness success “translates to dollars for downtown,” said Klein, who owns Lawrence’s Mass St. Fish House & Raw Bar.

Downtown’s Ramen Bowls was selling sushi outside the shop to “hangry” fans Saturday night, according to general manager Rozz Petrozz. It was the downtown eatery’s “first go” at vending in Allen Fieldhouse — on this evening for the KU Alumni Association’s watch party at the storied arena — and evidently, they’d made way too much food for the occasion.

So, Petrozz and her crew started selling their left-over sushi at a discounted price during the game’s second half, hoping to fill the bellies of dejected KU fans.

“We’re hoping to give food to the people,” Petrozz said of her mission for the night. “It nourishes the soul. It makes everyone feel better.”

Petrozz, who hails from Chicago, moved to Lawrence about 10 years ago. Before relocating to Kansas, she didn’t really follow college basketball. That changed after Lawrence became home.

As someone who “feeds off people’s emotions,” Petrozz said, she couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at KU’s loss.

“To watch a whole community go down like this — it’s so sad,” Petrozz said, referring to the dejected mood along Massachusetts Street.

Still, Petrozz and other would-be revelers seemed optimistic about KU’s chances in next year’s NCAA tournament. Just before 10:30 p.m., near the intersection of Eighth and Massachusetts streets, Cameron and Courtney Bernard sat on a bench, watching the crowds pass by.

The newlyweds, both KU alumni, seemed to have accepted the loss against Villanova long before the final buzzer rang at around 10 p.m. As far as Cameron was concerned, “We made it to the Final Four,” he said, “so that’s nice.”

KU’s 85-81 win over Duke in the Elite Eight had more significance for Cameron.

“That was the icing on the cake,” he said.

After a 14th consecutive Big 12 conference title and a strong post-season performance, the next year is looking good for KU basketball, Cameron thinks.

“I think next year we’ll be just as good,” he said. “Maybe even better.”

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More news and notes from Kansas vs. Villanova


By the Numbers: Villanova 95, Kansas 79.

By the Numbers: Villanova 95, Kansas 79.