If asked if they could do it all over again, Virginia and Tony Bennett would likely take the historic loss to UMBC last season again.
After all, the Cavaliers are national champions this year. The first ever 16-over-1 loss in the men’s NCAA Tournament is a now a footnote because of what Virginia accomplished on Monday night in a thrilling 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech.
“When I put Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the podium with me after the UMBC game, I knew it was the start of something,” Bennett told ESPN after the game.
Virginia rebounded from last season’s historic loss to University of Maryland, Baltimore County by earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament yet again. But even then, the Cavaliers did not make it easy for themselves.
The Cavaliers trailed by 14 points early in the game against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb before pulling away late. Virginia also trailed late in their Sweet 16, Final Four and national championship matchups before winning.
Virginia won all three of these games. Cardiac Cavs. pic.twitter.com/sxi9ZEHE9z
— Zach Bloxham (@zblox) April 9, 2019
“Even though it was hard,” Bennett said. “It probably makes us appreciate it even more because of how it played out last year.”
Virginia will go down in history as one of the best redemption stories in college basketball, but it was only two years ago that another team was being hailed as the greatest turnaround.
In the 2016 national championship game, UNC’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance three-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining to tie the game 74-74 against Villanova.
However, Ryan Arcidiacono found Kris Jenkins for a buzzer-beating three-point shot to give Villanova the national championship. The Tar Heels were left to walk off the court dejectedly as the confetti rained down and Villanova’s bench rushed the court.
“This is a difficult time period as a coach and as a player” an emotional Roy Williams said after the game. “You fought so hard and did so much throughout the course of the season to have a chance to win a national championship. I’ve had some really, really good teams and really good players, and I’ve never been as proud of a group as I am of this group right now.”
It was, by all accounts, one of the greatest endings to a national title game in college basketball history.
But for UNC, it was a crushing defeat.
So how did North Carolina respond?
The following season saw the Tar Heels rebound in spectacular fashion, earning a No. 1 seed en route to another appearance in the national title game.
It wasn’t easy though, as North Carolina squeaked by with a 75-73 win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and a 77-76 win over Oregon in the Final Four. The Tar Heels took a page from Villanova’s book in the win over Kentucky with Luke Maye’s buzzer-beating jump shot.
North Carolina completed one of the greatest turnarounds in college basketball history by defeating Gonzaga 71-65 to win the sixth national championship in school history.
The mood following the win over Gonzaga couldn’t have been more different than the year prior.
“At the end, when you’re watching your kids jump around,” Williams said following the game, “and the excitement and thrill they have, there’s no better in the world as a coach.”
Williams was emotional yet again at the postgame conference, but this time for a very different reason.
So which one is the better redemption story: Virginia or North Carolina?
The Cavaliers, who went from the laughing stock of college basketball to national champions? Or the Tar Heels, who turned a crushing loss into the sixth national title in school history?
Or perhaps both stories are great.
“Just unreal that we get a second chance at this,” Theo Pinson said after the win over Gonzaga.“Not a lot of people can say they can do that. I told [Joel Berry], `We’re about to take this thing. I’m about to give everything I got.'”
Echoing a similar message two years later was Virginia’s Ty Jerome.
“I’m not even thinking about UMBC right now,” Jerome said. “I’m just thinking this is a dream come true.”