TUCSON, Ariz. - Aglow from claiming their first NCAA basketball championship, the Arizona Wildcats returned home Tuesday to share the glory with thousands of adoring fans.
The jubilant reception amid a sea of red T-shirts stunned them. Hundreds of people lined streets and intersections all along their motorcade route from Tucson International Airport to the campus. And some 45,000 more cheering, screaming fans filled much of the university's football stadium.
When the motorcade reached the stadium, several thousand fans stormed onto the field to swarm their heroes. The team had returned from Indianapolis, where it defeated defending champion Kentucky 84-79 in overtime Monday night.
An airplane towed a "Congrats Cats" banner, while helicopters intermittently circled outside the stadium.
Deafening cheers erupted as the motorcade entered the stadium, and hundreds of red and blue balloons were released as the team reached risers set up on the field.
The noise and enthusiasm prompted Arizona football coach Dick Tomey to compare it to the atmosphere in Arizona Stadium when his team defeated then-No. 1 Washington in 1992.
"You're the No. 1 fans in the world," basketball coach Lute Olson said. "If anyone doubted that, they needed to be with us as we drove into the stadium. This is un-BE-lievable!
"Every street corner, every street, people were there with signs, red shirts on, welcoming us," Olson said.
Miles Simon, the Final Four most outstanding player, echoed Olson. "It's unbelievable, it's unbelievable. Thank you all for coming."
He then introduced his teammates, only a few of whom said anything.
After the rally, center A.J. Bramlett said, "I didn't expect this many people. It just shows all the support we have. It's a credit to our fans."
His backup, Donnell Harris, added: "It was a wonderful feeling to see everybody come out and supporting us."
The team, escorted by a phalanx of police officers and security personnel, had to make its its way off the field through fans lined up diagonally across the grass.
Police encountered none of the sort of problems that surrounded a civil disturbance off-campus last night and earlier Tuesday, in which thousands of rowdy revelers flooded onto Fourth Avenue near campus. Among other things, an undercover police car was flipped, officers used a pepper gas to disperse a crowd that began throwing rocks and bottles, and six people were arrested.
ARIZONA (84)- Davison 3-9 3-3 9, Dickerson 1-8 2-2 5, Bramlett 1-3 1-1 3, Bibby 5-12 6-6 19, Simon 8-18 14-17 30, Terry 2-6 2-2 8, Edgerson 0-0 2-2 2, Harris 2-2 4-8 8. Totals 22-58 34-41 84.
KENTUCKY (79)- Mercer 5-9 1-1 13, Padgett 5-16 4-4 17, Magloire 0-1 0-0 0, Turner 4-9 0-1 8, Epps 4-13 0-0 11, Edwards 0-0 0-0 0, Prickett 1-4 4-5 6, Mohammed 6-11 0-6 12, Mills 5-9 0-0 12, Masiello 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-72 9-17 79.
Halftime- Arizona 33, Kentucky 32. End of Regulation- Arizona 74, Kentucky 74. 3-Point goals- Arizona 6-13 (Bibby 3-5, Terry 2-3, Dickerson 1-3, Simon 0-2), Kentucky 10-30 (Epps 3-8, Padgett 3-12, Mercer 2-4, Mills 2-6). Fouled out- Bramlett, Prickett, Turner, Mercer, Padgett. Rebounds- Arizona 45 (Bibby 9), Kentucky 40 (Mohammed 11). Assists- Arizona 12 (Terry 5), Kentucky 18 (Mercer 6). Total fouls- Arizona 16, Kentucky 29. A- 47,028.