Lessons learned from UVA loss

Published 10:21 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

Although my college basketball passion has waned some in recent years, the NCAA Tournament always manages to sweep me up each March. March Madness is something to help get me through to April, when Major League baseball, my real sports passion, gets under way.

This year, I was especially interested because the University of Virginia was the No. 1 seed in the tournament, out of 64 teams. I greatly admire Coach Tony Bennett, and the stellar program he has built at Virginia. The Wahoos easily had the best regular season record in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, and then won the prestigious ACC Tournament. Thus, they were a well-deserving No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Last Friday night, I did not bother to tune in to the first half of their game against the lowest-seeded team in the tournament, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). Why bother? Everyone knew it would be a blowout. In the entire history of the NCAA Tournament, a 16th seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. Ever.

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Thus, when I happened to check a sports app Friday evening and saw that Virginia was behind by around 10 points, with about 15 minutes left to play in the game, I had to do a double-take to make sure I was reading things correctly. Then I turned on the television and watched history unfold before my very eyes.

To make a long story short, UMBC, which was a 20-point underdog, won the game by 20 points. It was the biggest upset in college basketball history. What happened and what can be learned from it?

4Don’t take things for granted. It was pretty obvious that UVA’s players, a collection of high-character young men, did not take their opening-round opponent as seriously as they should have.

4Show class in defeat. Virginia’s players were crushed by this loss. They know all too well that it will be replayed year after year during the NCAA Tournament. They will have to “wear” this loss for the rest of their lives. Yet, despite their tears, they lined up to congratulate the victors, showing tremendous grace. The same goes for their coach. Tony Bennett was the national coach of the year this season, the third time he has won the award. He is universally considered to be among the top five coaches in his sport. He has built the Virginia program into a powerhouse. During the game, he stayed remarkably poised on the sidelines as he watched what had to be a horror show for him. After the game, he did not run from postgame interviews, but addressed the reporters courteously and honestly. Despite the fact that his best player, De’Andre Hunter, was injured and could not play, Coach Bennett offered no excuses and gave credit to UMBC.

I strongly suspect that the Virginia team will come back better than ever next year, thanks in no small part to the character of the coach who leads them.

You see, Tony Bennett doesn’t live for basketball. As he recently said, “I have great things in my life … my love for coaching, my love for basketball. Those are wonderful things, but when you line them up in comparison to Christ, with what He’s done for you … they don’t compare.”

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.