All week the well-intentioned dementia has been building and today it reached its cathartic peak.

An entire city of 200,000 souls achieved a state in which its only collective public concern was basketball.

The good people of Lexington hardly know in which of three directions to turn.

Most private conversation here, and almost all the attention of the Kentucky television, radio and newspapers are focused on three basketball tournaments, each of which has a visceral claim to the deepest allegiance of Lexingtonians.

What to do?

First, it is considered a civic duty here - one openly proclaimed by city officials from Mayor Foster Pettit on down - to fill the "big brown box downtown" every time it is opened for basketball.

The big brown box downtown is the largest house for basketball in North America, the 23,400-seat Rupp Arena (pronounced "Ruppereener"), and it has been sold out for months for today's NCAA Mideast Regional championship game.

"You ask what the biggest basketbal gym in America is doing in a town this size," grinned Pettit this week, tossing up his hands like a man who has been requested to explain the folks around here feel about basket-ball."

Pittit freely admits that the health of Lexington's downtown area - centered around the Rupp Arena - is tied to the health of the University of Kentucky basketball program, which averages more than 22,000 fans per home game.

The arena was packed today for Michigan-vs-North Carolina-Charlotte. But clearly, the game finished a poor third here in local interest.

Today, the gigantic Rupp Arena was more than half empty just minutes before game time.

Fans who bought their Mideast Regional tickets nearly a year ago dutifully stayed home to watch Kentucky-vs-North Carolina in the East Regional on TV. The arena did not fill up until Kentucky's last hopes had died.

Throughout the Ruppereener today, and at every downtown traffic light, one need only listen closely to hear the sound of radios tuned into the Sweet Sixteen high school tournament from Louisville.

The banner headlines on page one of every mayor Kentucky newspaper this week have alternated from day to day, with the next Kentucky game, the Mideast tourney and the Sweet Sixteen taking turns in the limelight.

The rosters, records and complete statistics of every Mideast team fill three-quarters of the Lexington Herald's front page. High school coaches are interviewed on the radio from morning until midnight about the mysteries of the jump switch and the circle freeze.

And when ancient Adolph F. Rupp, patriarch of Wildcat coaches, stands up to leave his seat in the biggest building in Lexington - one that just happens to be named after him - all stand and cheer with a reverence that to an outlander can seem almost eerie.