Topper fans fill up Hilligan’s during loss

WKU fans yell at the TV at Hilligan’s during the first half of WKU’s NCAA Tournament game against Kentucky on Thursday night.

Lucas Aulbach

Afternoon storms couldn’t keep WKU’s newly-energized fan base from coming out and supporting the team at Hilligan’s Bar and Grill during the Toppers’ NCAA Tournament game against Kentucky on Thursday.

The bar, a block away from the WKU campus, was packed to the door with Topper fans as well as a smattering of UK fans.

The restaurant was so full that employees had to stop letting people in to keep from filling up past capacity.

Cincinnati senior Emma Pemberton had a suggestion to help with the crowd.

“Someone needs to call the fire marshal and get all of these UK fans out of here,” she said.

The Second Round battle between the two in-state rivals brought out some Wildcats fans, as well as many conflicted Topper fans. One fan wore a half-red, half-blue shirt that said “Torn.”

The fan presence was overwhelmingly red, though, and helped in spirit by the presence of Glasgow sophomore Taylor Emberton donning a homemade Big Red costume.

“I love Big Red, and since he couldn’t be here, I figured I would step in and attempt to capture his spirit,” she said. “I almost wore it to class, but I had a test, so you know how that goes.”

Emberton said the atmosphere at Hilligan’s was great for the game.

“The energy’s been real good here. It’s just fun to be around so many Tops fans booing all the UK fans,” she said.

The aura at the bar was not lost on frequent visitors. Pikeville senior Olivia Branham said the bar was as full as it has been since Froggy’s Bar and Grill closed and Hilligan’s opened in its place.

Branham, who arrived with her friends at 3 p.m., almost three hours before tip-off, said she is excited to see how WKU’s team continues to grow.

“I think we have a chance to be really good in the future,” she said. “Coach (Ray) Harper’s giving us that moral boost that we need to get going.”

No moral boost could impact the final score, though, and while WKU held the lead for part of the first half, they ended up falling to Kentucky 81-66.

Despite the loss, the Toppers still had the support of the makeshift mascot at Hilligan’s.

“The Tops hung in there and I’m very proud,” Emberton said. “This is the year of the Tops, I think. Even to make it this far is just a huge accomplishment from where they started, so I’m proud of them no matter the outcome of the game.”

She wasn’t alone in her optimism. Many Topper fans left the restaurant confident that WKU has a bright future on the basketball court, including Pemberton.

“Western’s basketball team used to be awesome,” she said. “I think we’re definitely getting back to that point.”