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Thursday, March 22 Local

'Great time to be a UConn fan'

MILFORD -- At the Tilted Kilt, University of Connecticut fans were as thick as fleas on, well, a Husky, as they crowded around the huge rectangular bar to cheer on their team against the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Beer was flowing along with enthusiasm of the fans, with no Kentucky bourbon in sight. Conversation in the bar was limited to cheers as UConn went ahead and boos when the Wildcats scored.

As the Huskies surged to an early lead, fans were glued to the wall-to-wall-to-ceiling TV screens, ignoring the waitresses gyrating in the aisles with each new score.

Tom Latham, of Milford, made a very bold prediction as the game began.

"It's going to be a blowout," he proclaimed to cheers, "78 to 54."

But Kevin Lord, of Milford, chose to be on the safe side. "I want UConn to win, but I'm not predicting anything right now," he said, knocking his fist on the wooden table.

But his buddy gave away his secret: "He bet big on UConn," he said.

Lucky for him, the Huskies were victorious, 60-54.

Many fans said they can identify with the adversity the team has gone through to get to this tournament. Last year, UConn was ruled ineligible for the tournament because of low academic scores of its players.

This year, the Huskies were ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll at the start of the season, while Kentucky was ranked No. 1.

"UConn has a history of fighting against the low odds," said Dan Barbiero, of Trumbull. "And I think it's that faith that attracts its fans. They work hard to get every point; their coach (Kevin Ollie) is not satisfied with what the team had done under Coach Calhoun. He wants to make his own history."

Dan Lebov, of Hamden, said he has been a UConn fan since he was a child.

"And I've stayed with the team through it all," he said.

As UConn continued to pull away from Kentucky in the first half, the intensity of the cheers grew. With each score, there were shouts of "UConn!" from one side of the crowded bar, answered by "Huskies!" from the other side.

"UConn's doing a great job," said Al Demers, of Milford, a fan since 1978. "The possibility of them winning another national championship and the women doing it too -- it's just a great time to be a UConn fan."

dtepfer@ctpost.com; 203-330-6308; http://twitter.com/dantepfer