“At least it wasn’t Duke.”
Those are the words Drew, Jennifer Palumbo, and I comforted one another with as we made our way up the ramp and out of Lucas Oil Stadium for the final time. Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin was shattering and will linger in the hearts and minds of the BBN in the way only the worst do, but here’s an interesting question: would it have been worse if Kentucky had beaten Wisconsin only to lose to Duke in the final game? I argue yes.
Yesterday, someone asked me on Twitter which was worse: Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin or the one in 1992 to Duke at the hands of Christian Laettner. I imagine this vote will be divided by age, and since I was only 7 in ’92, Saturday’s loss was much more painful to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never forget sitting on the floor with my family as Laettner spun and shot, sending the room into a stunned silence. Cruelly, it’s my first truly vivid memory as a Kentucky fan, one that shaped my entire fandom from the start; however, I was still too young to grieve and process it on the level that I did Saturday’s loss. One of the reasons Saturday night hurt so badly was because I think most of us really, really believed we were going to win. Unless you are the most careful and pragmatic of fans, I’d wager you really did think Kentucky was destined to go 40-0. On Sunday morning, I even woke up and started blaming myself for thinking ahead, worrying about what outfit to wear, how much confetti I could stuff in my bag, and the blissful moment when I’d come home and collapse on my bed, fully satiated with a season that was just meant to be. Instead, I collapsed on the bed numb. Empty. Disappointed.
Had Kentucky advanced and lost to Duke tonight, it would give the Blue Devils and Coach K another knockout to mount on the wall aside ’92. The pain of not only losing, but losing to them would trump coming up short against Wisconsin, a team whose season we spoiled last year. Having the brass ring that much closer, so close you could just brush it with your fingertips, only to be yanked away by one of your arch rivals would be the cruelest joke the basketball gods ever played.
Right now, it is too soon to search for silver linings and there’s no way I can bring myself to watch tonight’s Championship game, but there is a small amount of comfort in the fact that the only way this could be worse is if it came at the hands of Duke.