In a mad frenzy, thousands of University of Connecticut students rushed onto Gampel Pavilion’s center court Monday night as the final seconds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament ticked down and gave way to the 2011 champions - the UConn Huskies.
Third-seeded Connecticut defeated No. 8 Butler 53-41 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX, winning its 11th straight game and third national championship in 12 years.
“My Facebook now says, ‘Thanks UConn for the best birthday gift!’ … I’m really excited right now,” UConn senior Sean Poulin said breathlessly after the game.
Earlier in the night, hundreds of students had lined up outside of the pavilion’s entrance waiting to get inside and find a prime seat to watch the game on the three large white screens and two giant scoreboards set up on the court.
UConn’s “true blue” showed up in team attire while others, including Matt LeBel of Ellington, used blue and white body paint to spell out “UConn” and “Kemba” on their chests. Others held homemade signs that read “Huskies Rule, Bulldogs Drool!” and “Silence of the Lamb,” for UConn guard Jeremy Lamb. In total, about 9,000 people, primarily students, including members of the UConn women’s basketball team who had arrived in Storrs that afternoon, packed into Gampel to experience the emotional rollercoaster that was the final game.
The university’s marching band boomed as members of the UConn cheerleading team and dance squad welcomed the students to the event.
The pavilion roared and shook when the Huskies were broadcast on the big screen, while images of Butler were met with boos. Fans turned their backs to the screens as the Bulldog’s starting lineup was announced.
UConn lost the back-and-forth battle in the first half and was down 19-22 at half time, causing some fans to put their faces in their hands and shake their heads in possible frustration or disbelief. Some admitted outright that they were nervous.
“This is bad,” UConn graduate student Alex Esters said in disbelief.
“How is the score 19 to 22 right now?” asked another student in shock.
The second half proved that the Butler Bulldogs were no match for the UConn as it ran away with the game taking its early 26-25 lead in the last half to a 53-41 victory.
“UConn played great defense,” UConn senior Allan Costa said, thrilled with the victory.
When the final buzzer sounded, students erupted into cheers, tears and applause. They linked arms, swayed and screamed along with Queen’s “We Are the Champions” as it blasted out of Gampel's speakers.
After a few encore performances, fans headed toward the Student Union where an impromptu DJ played in celebration of UConn’s historic win.
Chants of “U-Conn Hus-kies” and “U-C-O-N-N, UConn, UConn, UConn” rang into the early morning hours as fans paraded in the streets.
Earlier in the day university Interim President Philip Austin and Police Chief Robert Hudd posted a letter on the university Web site and sent an e-mail to students cautioning them against letting an “exuberant” celebration turn “destructive.”
“Unfortunately, too often at campuses across the nation post-game celebrations have gone from exuberant to destructive. Nothing can be gained from harmful, destructive, or criminal actions,” Austin and Hudd wrote. “However, anyone who engages in this sort of behavior does have a great deal to lose, including risking arrest and possible expulsion from the University.”
“Don’t allow one bad decision to sully a Husky victory and derail your college career, especially on a night that is supposed to be fun and exciting for all of us at UConn. Celebrate, but do so responsibly, with respect for people and property,” the men wrote.
University police reported early Tuesday that a car had been flipped over, there were a few fires in trash bins and about a dozen arrests, according to an Associated Press report.
Off campus, the celebration also involved fire, this time a burning couch, an overturned car and some arrests, according to the AP story.
The University of Connecticut men's basketball team is scheduled to return to Gampel Pavilion for a Championship Pep Rally on Tuesday. Doors will open at approximately 5 p.m. and the team is expected to arrive in Storrs at approximately 5:30 p.m.