George Phillips: The View from a Dukie

Editors’ Note:  The author, a Duke alum,  is one of my very best friends, and also one of my biggest enemies on game day.  I have excerpted a letter he wrote me this morning.

I didn’t text or call last night because I knew how crushing that loss must have been, and even this may be too soon.  But you know I hope you will forgive me for intruding on your, “It was a great season moment.”

You had the most talented team in the nation, they were favored, they could taste it and they deserved it having beaten Wichita State, Michigan and Louisville, and they were playing UConn who lost to Louisville 3 times this year, once by 30 points, who the Cats killed twice this year.  I know you thought even if UConn was able to lead in the first half it would only a matter of time before UK’s immense talent would take over and dominate in the second half.  It looked that way, UConn was on the ropes, everybody knew it was only a matter of time, UConn’s bigs were in four trouble, Randle was, as he was all year, a man among boys, one of the Harrison twins could be counted on to hit a 3 if it was needed, the Cats were destined to win.

UK had a dozen possessions in the second half 0with UConn clinging to a 1-pt lead, and they just couldn’t take the lead.  Instead they will always be remembered as one of the most talented basketball teams in NCAA history not to win the National Championship.  Right up there with Calipari’s 2008 Memphis team ranked #1 with Derrick Rose with a 106-9 record over the last 3 years coming into the finals with Kansas.  Rose had an unbelievable second half leading Memphis to a 9 point lead with 2 minutes left.  But then like last night, Calipari’s stars as talented as they were, couldn’t hit their free throws missing 4 of 5 over the last minute.  The other less talented team last night like Kanas hit theirs, all 10 of them.  The team with less talent, with less freshmen starters, who worked at free throws intently in every practice where misses result in wind sprints, won.

Comparisons to the ’83 Houston Cougars with Olajuwon and Drexler, or Michigan’s ’93 Fab Five or the most dominant team ever the ’91 UNLV Running Rebels led by the Calipari like Tark the Shark.  The Running Rebels demolished every team they played in 1990, including the largest blow-out ever in the finals beating Duke by 30 points.  In ’91 they were undefeated trouncing teams by an average margin of victory of almost 30 points and they faced Duke in the quarter finals who they had humiliated in the finals the year before. And they, like UK last night, lost. And like last night, there was a feeling that the more talented team lost, but somehow there was justice in Calipari like Tarkanian being denied a Championship that by all rights they should have won.  Sometimes preparation, hard work and experience beats talent.  Sometimes there is justice in the world.  Last night felt to a non-Kentucky fan like one of those times.

College basketball is a cruel, crushing sport, and none more cruel to BBN and one of the most talented teams in the history of College basketball, than last night’s loss.  I feel your pain.

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