After earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, Virginia couldn’t avoid the talk of losing in the first round again. In 2018, coach Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers became the first top seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tourney history.
And it came closer to happening again this year than many expected. Virginia found itself down by 14 points to 16th-seeded Gardner-Webb on Friday in the first round, and trailed 36-30 at halftime. But the Cavs outscored the Bulldogs 41-20 in the second half to secure the win. They then cruised in the second round, and went on to win the national championship.
“It’s unlike anything — well, no college basketball team really in the history of the game has had to go through that,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “It’s our doing. We were the first 1 seed to lose last year, and then all of a sudden to fight back and become a 1 seed, and then to be in that situation again. You talk about trying to focus in and then getting down, it was real.”
But Bennett doesn’t lose his perspective of where this tournament lies in the grand scheme of things. He says he talks to his players about “living in plenty” and “living in want,” but they need to find their peace and perspective from something unconditional.
“That has to be your center, and you dwell on what is good because there is a bigger picture to all of this,” he said.
For Bennett, his peace and perspective come from his faith in Christ and the love from his family.
“I know I have that in the love of my family — unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from, my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things,” he said.
“Going through those refining moments, they’re tough,” Bennett said. “But you look back on them and in a way they’re sometimes painful gifts that draw you nearer to what truly matters.”
Bennett has been outspoken about his faith and says it is Christ that he leans on to guide him in his life.
“I have great things in my life — my love for my wife, my love for my family, my love for coaching, my love for basketball,” he said in 2014. “Those are wonderful things, but when you line them up in comparison to Christ and the relationship you have with Him, with what He’s done for you and with what He’s given you, they don’t compare. That’s the greatest truth I know.”