This Day In Sports: The tale of two NCAA Tournaments

April 8, 2019, five years ago today: A year after becoming the first NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16, Virginia wins its first national championship with a riveting 85-77 win over Texas Tech in overtime. It had been 388 days since the Cavaliers had been shocked 74-54 in the 2018 tournament by Maryland-Baltimore County. On this night, however, Virginia was unfazed by that infamous footnote in history. The Cavs’ De’Andre Hunter, after going scoreless for the first 18½ minutes, put up 27 points, including a tying three-pointer with 12 seconds left in regulation and another in OT that gave UVA the lead for good.

It was a season of redemption for Virginia and coach Tony Bennett (who just finished his 15th season with the Cavaliers with a First Four loss to Colorado State). Bennett had taken a philosophical approach to the shocking loss to UMBC. “This is life,” Bennett said. “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. And that’s the job.”

UVA beat two ranked teams out of the gate in 2018-19 and started 16-0 before falling 72-70 to No. 1 Duke. The Cavs claimed a share of their fourth ACC regular season championship in six years and earned a No. 1 seed again in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia was the only top seed to reach the Final Four, and it took a wild 80-75 Elite Eight win over Purdue in overtime to get there. Then the Cavaliers survived Auburn 63-62 on a pair of free throws with 0.6 seconds left to make the title game. And the way they finished in OT versus Texas Tech, well, it just felt like destiny.

Bennett has a little bit of history in what is now ExtraMile Arena. He was a sophomore point guard for his dad, Dick, at Wisconsin Green Bay when the Phoenix played at Boise State in December, 1989. UWGB dismantled the Broncos, who were in rebuilding mode the season after the Chris Childs era ended, winning 69-39 behind 25 points from Bennett. To this day, he holds the NCAA career record for three-point percentage at 49.7 percent. Bennett also coached against the Broncos in Boise. He had replaced his dad as head coach at Washington State in 2006 and was in his second season when the Cougars came into Taco Bell Arena in November, 2007, and beat the Broncos 86-74.

Ironically, tonight Purdue will try to do exactly what Virginia did in 2019. After becoming the second No. 1 seed in history to lose to a No. 16 in that shocking 63-58 loss to Farleigh Dickinson on St. Patrick’s Day last year, the Boilermakers will play UConn for the championship. A win would give the Boilermakers a historic redemption story of their own. It’ll be an upset if it happens, as the Huskies are favored by 6½ points.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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