LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville fans celebrated hard Monday night after the Cardinals beat Michigan 82-76 for the NCAA championship.
It was a long time coming for the Kentucky school and the city, patiently waiting for a title since 1986.
Hundreds streamed onto Cardinal Boulevard after the win, screaming and dancing and lighting off small fireworks in revelry that lasted into the early hours.
"This means everything," said Connor Millay, 19, a Northern Kentucky University student who traveled to Louisville despite facing two tests Tuesday.
"I've been waiting for this my whole life," Millay said. "My dad experienced this. My grandpa experienced this. I needed one of these."
Elsewhere around town, Cardinals faithful partied in dormitories and around campus, in bars and restaurants and in living rooms after Louisville claimed its third national championship.
Most chose the quiet comforts of home over the noisy crowds that assembled in the Fourth Street Live! entertainment district. But when the final gun sounded and Louisville emerged victorious at the Georgia Dome, emotions were felt everywhere.
"We've been waiting for this for the past 27 years," said Joe Barnes, 61, a University of Louisville alum who walked among the thousands of students on Cardinal Boulevard. "This has been one of the best teams that U of L has had. Ever. They've showed more spirit, more hustle. They believe in each other."
Standing ready were Louisville police, prepared for large crowds and celebrations that have been commonplace since the Cardinals reached the Final Four and then beat Wichita State in Saturday night's semifinal.
University spokesman John Drees said more than 5,000 people were estimated to be packed onto Cardinal Boulevard.
"Everybody's happy," he said. "Everybody's celebrating."
He said police arrested six people on charges of disorderly conduct. Two people were injured, one for a cut foot. The cause of the other injury wasn't available, Drees said.
The citywide party could become a two-night affair if the Cardinals' women's team beats Connecticut for the NCAA championship in New Orleans on Tuesday.
"It's huge," said freshman Paul DeNeve. "We have not only won tonight but the women's team plays tomorrow."
Including the football team's Sugar Bowl win over Florida on Jan. 2, he said, "we are arguably one of the nation's best sports universities right now."
The men's championship was a nervous watch for Louisville's fan base, which saw the Cardinals trail by 12 in the first half before rallying to 38-37 at the break. Louisville eventually went ahead and led by 10 in the second, withstanding Michigan's attempts to come back.
At halftime, the near-capacity crowd at Cluckers bar was on their feet, leaping in unison after the Cardinals erased that deficit. That boosted confidence in closing the deal on Louisville's first title in a generation — not to mention, anticipation for how to toast it.
"It's going to be a party," said Elliott Benjamin, 21, of Jeffersonville, Ind. "Not like Kentucky (last year). But it's going to be something."
The joyous outcome followed a subdued beginning as fans gathered confident if cautious.
Just two hours before tipoff, things were pretty quiet down at the Fourth Street Live!
Other than one fan passing through who got a few folks to yell out "C-A-R-D-S, Cards!" most of those milling around seemed more intent on staking out good viewing spots in restaurants ahead of the expected crowd.
Krissy Van Laan and friend Lindsay McDaniel had their spots at the Ri' Ra' Irish Pub, staying all the way through and witnessing the mayhem that unfolded immediately afterward.
"Everybody was so excited. It was unbelievable," Van Laan said. "Once it got down to 4 seconds left, I knew we had it. People were running out in the streets and excited. This is just unbelievable."
Police officers were stationed in areas where rowdy outdoor celebrations are expected, as they were on Saturday night after Louisville's win over Wichita State in the national semifinal.
Louisville assistant chief Kenton Bucker said additional police were moved to a two-block area of West Broadway because of fighting and disorderly behavior there this past weekend. There were nine arrests in the area, and crowds stayed out until around 1 a.m.
Buckner said about 200 police officers, sheriff's deputies, corrections officers and medical staff were working at sites where crowds are likely to gather. He said police concentrated efforts around the Broadway area, Louisville's campus and two downtown locations where bars and restaurants are located.
Andre Whittaker was just fine dining with his family at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Dressed in a red shirt with the 3 of Cardinals guard Peyton Siva, Whittaker recalled watching Louisville win its last title on the porch of his mother's house at 14. The 23-year Navy veteran relished seeing his team win it all as an adult while home on leave from Norfolk, Va.
"I put in for the leave before I knew they would even be here," said Whittaker, 41. "It's just grand that they could win it while I'm home. This means a lot to me, and you can see the excitement in the city. They've been out there a long time but just couldn't get over the hump."
Until Monday night.
AP Staff Writer Dylan Lovan contributed to this report.