March 31, 1998 in Sports

Kentucky Fans Are Party Pros

From Wire Reports
 

When it comes to celebrating, Kentucky basketball fans are experts.

So when the Wildcats beat Utah in the national title game Monday, thousands of fans flooded the streets of downtown Lexington waving flags, jumping on the hoods of cars and shouting their neverending love for their team.

“We’re celebrating until tomorrow evening!” Kentucky student Jason Groneck screamed.

Down by 10 at halftime, most fans watching the game never lost hope. They remembered comeback victories over Duke and Stanford earlier in the tournament.

“Oh, they’ll come back,” said Kevin Beall. “This team’s nickname is ‘The Unsinkables’ - just like the Titanic.”

No. 2 isn’t too shabby

A parade and pep rally awaited coach Rick Majerus and the Runnin’ Utes after the cheers of thousands of fans at home evaporated with Utah’s hopes for an NCAA title.

Less than a year after the city’s major sports attraction, the Utah Jazz, fell in six games to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, the upstart Utes suffered the same fate in losing to Kentucky.

But their fans, as surprised as many around the country in recent days at Utah’s unexpected appearance in the championship game, were only disappointed to a point.

“We thought Utah did a super job. That’s a great team and a super coach,” said Donna Tanner, a Utah alumnus, who watched the game on a giant screen at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center, where Utah plays its home game.

“We’re still No. 2, and that’s OK,” said Sue James.

Gov. Mike Leavitt had proclaimed Monday Runnin’ Ute Day before departing for San Antonio to see the game.

Afterward, he said, “How many ways can you say ‘I’m disappointed?’

“I think America was pulling for us,” he said. “We have to remember how far we’ve come and how proud we are. What a remarkable year it has been!”

Half of what the doctor ordered

Beefy Utah coach Rick Majerus has been following half his doctors orders.

“He told me to get plenty of rest and lose some weight,” Majerus said. “Guess which one I’m not doing?”

He also grades restaurants where he dines.

He gave an Italian restaurant and a German delicatessen in San Antonio his highest A double plus award.

However, he said there’s one hotel in town “where they are barely a step ahead of the health department.”

Ndiaye retracts slur charge

North Carolina senior center Makhtar Ndiaye on Monday retracted his accusation that Utah’s Britton Johnsen used a racial slur in Saturday’s Final Four game.

“I was very upset … and said some things I should not have said,” Ndiaye said in a statement released by the school. “During the game, Britt Johnsen and I were doing some trash talking face to face, which was not right, but I did not spit on him, nor did he use the ‘N-word’ to me.

“I got upset in the locker room when some reporters were asking me about what we were saying to each other and I let my emotions get away from me.”

Ndiaye said he sent Johnsen a letter of apology.

Tar Heels coach Bill Guthridge said he placed a call to Utes coach Rick Majerus, as well.

Tar Heel fans send prices crashing

North Carolina’s upset loss to Utah on Saturday night sent ticket prices tumbling for Monday’s championship game.

Ticket brokers were getting up to $1,000 for an upper deck seat and $2,000 for a lower deck seat, but prices crashed when North Carolina fans flooded the market with their ducats.

Regular upper deck tickets were $80 and lower deck tickets were $100.

Many North Carolina fans were roaming the hotel lobbies trying to sell their tickets for face value.

Good luck charm

Actress Ashley Judd is a big Kentucky fan and the players consider her something of a good luck charm.

“We appreciate her support,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “And sometimes she’s a pretty sight to see. The players love to see her.”

Final game for announcer

Frank Fallon, public address announcer for 21 consecutive Final Fours, ended his career Monday.

Fallon, 67, a retired broadcaster who teaches at Baylor University, went to high school in San Antonio.

“It’s my last one. I figured this was a good place to hang it up, in my hometown,” Fallon said.

His favorite championship game?

“It was Villanova’s 66-64 upset of Georgetown in 1985,” Fallon said. “It was always fun to see underdogs win.”

Honest Al

When taxi driver Al Gutierrez found six Final Four tickets and $10,000 in cash in the back seat of his cab, he knew what he had to do.

He made sure the tickets and money he found Saturday afternoon got back to the owner.

The tickets and money belonged to Florida ticket and tour operator Gary Dines.

The tickets belonged to some clients, and the cash was to buy four more Final Four tickets, Dines said.

“I just put myself in his shoes,” Gutierrez said. “I work really hard for my money. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose $10,000.”

Dines gave the driver a $100 reward.

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