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Monday, December 22, 2014

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Area UConn fans savor victory

Updated 11:40 pm, Saturday, April 5, 2014
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BRIDGEPORT -- From the Twitter feeds of millions to the heart of the city's Black Rock neighborhood, the UConn men's basketball team's triumphant return to the Final Four had fans abuzz Saturday night, with the possibility of Huskies in the championship just 60 minutes away.

Online, "#UConn" was trending as the Huskies went into the second half with a lead. On the ground at The Field in Bridgeport, the parking lot was full and the bar was packed with excited fans, the showdown with Florida on all of the restaurant's 15 televisions.

"It's all we're watching!" said owner Niall O'Neill.

Perhaps the Huskies could feel the excitement of Connecticut fans behind them as they fought their way to a 63-53 victory to advance to Monday night's championship game against Kentucky as the Huskies seek their fourth NCAA championship.

Around the room at The Field, cheers of "U-C-O-N-N! UCONN! UCONN! UCONN!" rang out through out of the bar's rooms and fans cheered raucously as the Huskies took the lead in the first half after a sluggish start.

"I'm having an amazing time," said Phillip Black, who lives in Black Rock. "All my friends are here and this place is great."

Watching the game was fun for the fans and some, like 24-year-old Mark Perone, said it could be a boost for the state's image as well, perhaps drawing people to the state's flagship public university.

"It absolutely fantastic," said Perone, a salesman from Fairfield. "It's awesome to see Connecticut represented on a national stage."

Standing out amid the Huskymania was the bright blue Florida jersey sported by C.J. Schoelch, who lives in Black Rock. He grew up in Connecticut, but went south for college, graduating from Florida in 2010. He saw Florida's national championship run in 2008 and was hoping for another title for his school.

"I'm pulling for my alma mater," he said. "When Florida's winning, it feels good."

But the excitement of UConn's run had converted others to their fan base, like Ryan Quinn, the co-founder and vice president of BlackRockLife.com. He and co-founder Kevin Smith organized a March Madness-themed beer pong tournament at The Field to add to the excitement.

Quinn graduated from former Big East rival Villanova in 2007, but was pulling for the Huskies on Saturday.

"I love it," he said of the atmosphere Saturday night. "I grew up on UConn and they broke my heart in the second round (when UConn beat Villanova 77-65), but sometimes you just have to jump on with them."