These are the sort of losses that can linger long after the final whistle.
North Carolina led by as many as 16 points in the first half and was up 15 points at halftime only to give that away in the second half, as Kansas pulled off the biggest comeback in championship game history to wrestle the trophy from the Tar Heels.
For UNC, the past 48 hours included a memorable win against Duke in the national semifinals and the heartbreak of having the Jayhawks on the ropes only to give it away.
“It hurts,” said guard Caleb Love. “The positive thing is I wouldn’t want to go through this with anybody else.”
Beating the Blue Devils twice in March, first ruining Mike Krzyzewski’s home finale and then his last tournament, helps take some of the sting out of Monday’s collapse.
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And the pain is mitigated further by the deep tournament run orchestrated by first-year coach Hubert Davis, who in leading the Tar Heels to the doorstep of an unexpected national championship answered any questions about his ability to take the mantle from his predecessor, Roy Williams, and bring UNC back to the pinnacle of the sport.
“I can’t remember a time in my life when I should be disappointed but I feel so much pride,” Davis said. “The way they have represented the university, this program, the community, I couldn’t ask for them to do any more than they have done.”
Even if the Tar Heels’ loss on Monday night will remain part of his legacy, what Davis achieved in his first year and especially in tournament play sets the stage for another run at the national championship in the near future.
That did not seem to be the case as late as the final week of January. Once 12-6 overall and 4-3 in ACC play, UNC had to string together a torrid close to the regular season just to get into the tournament with an at-large bid, only getting off the bubble with five straight wins going into the conference tournament.
After beating Marquette in the first round, UNC beat defending national champion Baylor, took out another reigning Final Four participant in UCLA and weathered the hype and hoopla to edge past Duke before running out of steam against the Jayhawks.
“There’s a number of things going through my mind right now,” Davis said. “The whole season has been filled with so many blessings, it’s been so busy I haven’t had time to really process or think fully about what has happened. I will say this: I love what I’m doing. I just love being the head coach at the University of North Carolina and coaching these kids.”
Davis may have the Tar Heels back in the Final Four as soon as next season. Two key starters may flirt with the NBA in Love and forward Armando Bacot, though neither is ranked among the top prospects in this year’s class. UNC should again be active in the transfer market after hitting on Oklahoma graduate transfer Brady Manek.
The Tar Heels are ranked third in USA TODAY Sports’ early Top 25 for 2022-23.
“The season has been successful,” said Bacot. “Having Coach Davis as the coach, he’s been amazing all year. This won’t be the last time you see this program here.”
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg