A program that put together a run of regular-season excellence over five years was in the middle of an unthinkable humiliation that college basketball had never seen.
Virginia was the first number-one seed to lose to a sixteen seed in the NCAA tournament.
Forget the ACC honors, forget the accomplishments. The lasting image for the program would be “The Titanic of NCAA Tournament Losses.”
How would head coach Tony Bennett rally the troops? Would there be a lingering effect on the players and the program as a whole?
It would have been very easy for the Virginia basketball program to allow their legacy to be the first and only loss to a 16 seed.
The only way to change the narrative would be to flip the script. To the credit of Tony Bennett and the Virginia program, that’s exactly what they did.
It was a surprise to no one that they had a terrific regular season, but there was something different about a team that had fallen short on a variety of different occasions in the big dance.
This year, Virginia had NBA talent and an ability to score the basketball that was missing with past teams.
The 2019 NCAA Tournament brought multiple challenges and adversity.
First up: sixteen-seed Gardner Webb and, yes, another double-digit deficit.
Minutes into the first weekend of the tournament America pondered, “could it happen again?”
By the end of the first half, you knew this was not deja vu all over again.
Virginia was too skilled and talented to be fall to the 16 seed for the second straight year.
The lessons of UMBC helped create a toughness and calm in late-game situations that are crucial in the NCAA Tournament.
They were poised and not overwhelmed by the moment and gravity of the game.
In Virginia’s last three tournament wins in 2019, they faced moments that would have broken many teams.
They overcame Purdue and Carsen Edwards’ performance for the ages in the Elite Eight and survived in overtime.
They survived Auburn in the Final Four. Despite losing a ten-point lead with five minutes to play, they and overcame a four-point deficit with ten seconds left because Kyle Guy simply wasn’t going to let them lose.
Guy’s performance in the final ten seconds of that game will go down as one of the most heroic performances in Final Four history.
Some wondered in Monday Night’s title game if the luck would run out against the very tough Texas Tech Red Raiders.
DeAndre Hunter’s game-tying three-pointer with less than 15 seconds to go officially put any doubt to rest about how this redemption tour was going to end.
A redemption tour of validation.
From the butt of all jokes to National Champs.
Not too shabby.
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