The University of Virginia Cavaliers came into Friday as the #1 seed of the NCAA tournament. Sitting high after being ranked #1 for much of the season, they were eager to get underway against the #16 seed University of Maryland Baltimore County. UMBC was an underdog of historic proportion. The #1 seed had won 135 games in a row. In fact, the #1 seed had never lost it’s opening game of the tournament. But this year was different than other years. This year, UMBC won.
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett had to face the media after the historic loss. Going through his head must have been things like “we got jobbed by the referees” and “how did UMBC get a #16 seed when they are clearly better than that” and “is this just a bad dream?” Any anger influenced responses must have been close to the tongue. In fact, all of us would have commiserated with him and forgiven him for all that he was feeling. Hurt, anger, rejection, disappointment and the most influential one for post-game interviews, embarrassment. Instead, he said:
”We got our butts whipped. That was not even close. That’s first a credit to the job Ryan did, coach Odom. Their offense was very hard to guard. They shot it well. We kept getting broken down and did a poor job. I told our guys, we had a historic season. A historic season in terms of most wins in the ACC. A week ago we’re cutting down the nets and the confetti is falling. And then we make history by being the first one-seed to lose. I’m sure a lot of people will be happy about that. And it stings. I told the guys, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job. But we got thoroughly out-played. Did not play well. We had a hard time with their mobile fours and their four guards. I don’t know what to say but that. That was a thorough butt whipping.”
Instead or arguing with reality, he gave credit where credit was due. He explained his disappointment and exclaimed his dismay. And yet, he explained that a loss does not define himself, his team, or their accomplishments. Good times go hand in hand with bad times. The sweet aint so sweet without the sour. And this was a sour loss.
The players will get over this first. They were there, they experienced it, they will move on. The coaches will get over it next – they have to – they have a job to do. The fans will get over it last. They are the most embarrassed, the most removed, the most exposed emotionally. But they should all rest assured for they have Tony Bennett. The coach who Virginia needs today. Who Virginia needed to be so successful. Who Virginia needs to move forward. In Tony Bennett they have a leader.