I live in an area that is dominated, at least at this time of the year, by all things college basketball related. To say it may be the most popular religion down here would not be exaggerating, with the only other possible contender being NASCAR®.
As a person who transferred into this state not completely understanding how this whole 'routine' worked, it took me awhile to get used to the unwritten rules. People schedule their basketball watching around day care, grocery shopping, even getting gas fill-ups for their car, you name it whatever it is, it comes second to watching college basketball. The locals who don't follow the games for whatever reason, know exactly when the stores will be unpacked and with faster check-outs; they also can tell you what restaurants to avoid the entire day of a game, especially when it comes to this time of the year when fans pack in hours and hours early. And everyone can tell you when the Tar Heels (the UNC team) is playing against the Blue Devils (Duke University's team), the arch rival and equal basketball powerhouse whose campus is a mere ten miles away. Sadly for them, the Blue Devils (both men's and womens' teams) went home early this year from the NCAA Tournament. A little bit of extra light shone through, or so it seemed, on UNC's chances with Duke thus eliminated.
It's bad enough that two weeks ago things really couldn't have looked better for the UNC-Chapel Hill basketball teams, as both the men and the womens' teams were highly rated and well on their respective ways to the semifinal (and maybe even final) championship games. Both of the mens' and womens' teams are peppered with All-American types, scoring leaders, first team all-NCAA winners, etc. Things looked very hopeful then for the loyal supporters and very troubling for future competitors.
Then last Sunday, the Tar Heel mens' team did a self-destruct that eradicated their 11-point lead in regular time, forced them into overtime where they saw the Hoyas score 14 additional straight unanswered points against them, which finally led them to lose by a 12-digit margin in the extra period. To say that UNC coach Roy Williams' team didn't show that they even belonged in the Final Eight last Sunday would be kind. (And for the record, I love Roy Williams, as he was coach at the University of Kansas for many years and we share that additional bond. A class act guy, all the way.) But I must also give Georgetown their due: they stepped up when it finally counted.
But, God Bless'em, the UNC womens' team (who never get the attention, publicity, nor money of the mens' endeavours here) looked like they could bring a championship home. Whereas the fellas looked impatient, unpoised and even a bit panicked in their losses (especially last week's), the women seemed capable of bouncing back time and again from adversity and somehow, anyhow, could pull out a win. Yesterday, they played against the Tennessee Volunteers in the first (we hoped) of their Final Four matches. Unfortunately, I now bring you the equally bad news that a similar fate has befallen the UNC womens' team, who fell last night in the National Semifinal. Like the men last week, the women yesterday couldn't find the basket when it mattered the most: at the end of the game, after they had once built a sizeable lead. They didn't score any points in the last 8:18 of the game, and lost to the Volunteers by a score of 56-50. It's a heartbreaking disappointment, especially as this year's team may have been one of the best to take the floor for the Tar Heels in years.
So today, it's a sad day in Chapel Hillville again. Those that have temporarily lost their religion have taken solace in one of the many sports bars and beer havens around town. And those that haven't...just can't wait for the season to finally be over and are already dreaming of next year. And everyone has moved onto NASCAR® full-time now.