The University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team was on the wrong side of history last Friday when it became the first number one seed to ever lose to a number 16 team in the NCAA tournament.
The Cavaliers, who had been crowned ACC champs and just days before, were blown out by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers 74 to 54 in the stunning upset. In an emotional press conference after the game, UVA coach Tony Bennett was ever-gracious in defeat, praising UMBC for a job well done and eloquently reflecting on the “life lesson” such a moment will teach both him and his players.
“First, hats off to Coach Odom and his staff and UMBC,” Bennett began. “They played a terrific game. They thoroughly outplayed us and they did a heck of a job.”
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 17, 2018
The coach explained that, as with any sporting event, there is always the possibility of an upset, always the possibility that someone will outplay you, but that doesn’t make the pain of losing any less severe. Ultimately, in sports, as in life, you have to be ready to accept that happens and not let it define you — a “life lesson” his players are now coming to terms with.
“There’s not a whole lot you can say right now. We talked about a few things [in the locker room], but, you know, heads are down. And again, that’s the reality of it,” he explained. “Time will heal. And I did share with them what I started my opening statement with, that’s life. This is not the end of the world, okay? There’s a lot of worse things that can happen. It’s the first time it happened, but this is a possibility. We knew that.”
With the double whammy of not only losing in the first round but also becoming the first top ranked team to ever go out in such a fashion, there are a lot of emotions for the the team to work through, but Bennett told reporters he planned to remind his players that “resiliency has been their strength” and now is the time to understand that they will be tested in a way they never imagined.
“It will sting. Maybe a one seed will get beat again, maybe not. Maybe we’ll be the only number one seed to ever lose. It’s life. It goes on. We’ll have to get past that,” Bennett said. “For some reason this is what we’ve got to deal with, and my job now will be to say hey, how do we bounce back … But a life lesson is sitting there about defining yourself by maybe not what the world says, but there’s other things that matter and then you get back to it.”
As Bennett explained, just as you can’t take away the team’s 31 wins and their hard-earned ACC Championship, you also can’t take away the fact that they are the first number one seed “to get beat and lose” to a 16-seed. Ultimately, the tournament came down to who played best for 40 minutes on Friday, and UMBC was the better team.
“I grew up, played at Wisconsin-Green Bay, the hyphenated schools. I know how good they are. Said it yesterday, good basketball knows no divisions or limits or qualities. And they played,” he concluded. “All that matters is who plays the best. They earned their right to play in this tournament. They earned their right to move on. It’s who played the best for 40 minutes, and they absolutely did … It certainly stings.”
(H/T: For The Win)