NEW YORK – After 15 games and five grueling but gratifying days full of basketball, the Big East Tournament is finally over.
And UConn, after winning five games in five days and completing a task no one thought possible, will head back to Storrs as champions with a thrilling, 69-66 win over Louisville.
The trek isn’t over, however. With the NCAA Tournament just a half a week away, the Huskies now have to get ready to play whatever opponent in whatever location the Selection Committee assigns them on Sunday evening. Starting Sunday morning, the talk will turn from “what an incredible performance” to “was the performance worth it?”
“Now that the tournament is over I can tell you that I was definitely tired,” Big East Tournament MVP Kemba Walker said after the game. “With about 2 minutes left I was gassed, but I just wanted to win this game so bad that you know my heart took over.”
The NCAA Tournament will start either Thursday or Friday for the Huskies, but the turnaround for the event will be much quicker than that. Even if they play Friday, the Huskies have to be at their location on Wednesday, meaning that at most, UConn will have three days at home. That is assuming they headed back to Storrs Saturday night and not Sunday morning.
Jim Calhoun said that Kemba told him during the game that he couldn’t feel his legs. So when says that he was gassed after playing 190 minutes over the course of five days, I suggest you believe him.
And when you are that tired, two or three days is not a lot of recovery time, especially when you have an opponent to prepare for.
So tired legs are a legitimate concern. And they will likely be the reason that a lot of folks will be picking UConn to make an early exit when they fill out their brackets.
“As long as we’re in the tournament and we get a reasonable seed, you know, hopefully we take a day off and be ready to play,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said.
Let’s say they aren’t.
Let’s pretend that UConn gets bounced in the second round by a lower seed.
It goes without saying that it will be a disappointment. For UConn fans, for UConn players, for the UConn coaching staff.
But it won’t tarnish this team’s legacy. What they did this week won’t soon be forgotten. Not by those fans, not by those players, and not by that coaching staff.
This was one of the greatest championship weeks I can remember. There were buzzer beaters. There were upsets. Game after game went into overtime. The past four days were, without a shred of a doubt, the epitome of what turns March into March Madness.
And the Huskies were the stars.
After rolling through No. 16 seed DePaul in the first round, UConn knocked off heated rival Georgetown to advance to play No. 1 seed Pitt. In a back-and-forth battle, the Huskies won at the buzzer on a ridiculous step-back jumper from Kemba. UConn advanced to take on another heated rival in Syracuse where, in overtime, Jeremy Lamb spurred the Huskies to victory after Scoop Jardine erased a six point deficit with 40 seconds left in regulation.
And in the final, UConn survived blowing a 12 point first half lead to beat the Cardinals and win the title.
“What these kids have been through this week, it’s been as moving for me as anything I can possibly think of,” Calhoun said.
In the grand scheme of things, sports don’t matter. They are games. We play them for fun. We watch them for our enjoyment, and hopefully some excitement. We watch them because the athletes are incredible at their craft, doing things most of us only dream of. We pay absurd amounts of money to go to games because there is nothing more beautiful than a well run fast break, or a perfectly turned double play, or a well timed fade route. We cheer for our favorite teams because, for one reason or another, we have a special bond with that team. When they win, it makes us happy.
But sports won’t get you a job in this economy. The NCAA Tournament is not going to help you make your mortgage payments. The World Cup will not help solve the conflict in Iraq. Or the Sudan. The Olympics are not going to cure AIDS or help the people hurt by the Japanese earthquake.
What sports does give us is moments. Moments that will forever be trapped in time. Moments that you can look back on in 40 years, and still remember like it was yesterday.
For every UConn fan, every UConn player, and every member of the UConn coaching staff, this past week was one of those moments.
And if you truly are a college basketball fan, then it was for you too.