Sudden end to season: Nobody remembers a runner-up

James Young and Julius Randle head to the locker room after UConn defeated UK in the NCAA National Championship. Photo by Emily Wuetcher | Staff

James Young and Julius Randle head to the locker room after UConn defeated UK in the NCAA National Championship. Photo by Emily Wuetcher | Staff

David Schuh Basketball columnist

David Schuh
Basketball columnist

By David Schuh | Men’s basketball columnist

dschuh@kykernel.com

ARLINGTON, Texas — The NCAA Tournament can be cruel.

For teams like UK that make it to the biggest stage on college basketball’s biggest night, the end comes so abruptly that you can hardly process it.

All of the sudden, the season is over. And at UK, where the only tolerable expectation is a championship, it’s worse.

UK didn’t win a National Championship, and that’s all that matters.

The initial thought when UK’s season came to a sobering end on Monday was how special this run has been. For three weeks, the Cats shocked and thrilled a fan base that had all but given up on them.

UK fans will remember this team fondly. They’ll remember the way the Cats made them feel on these March and April nights.

They’ll remember freshman guard Aaron Harrison and his mind-blowing late-game heroics that will live on in UK lore.

But after the confetti lands and the tears dry, one altruistic fact becomes clear.

What will endure is the way they felt on the night of April 7, when the dream, so surprising and euphoric, ended without warning.

The Cats were on the brink of history. It was a shock to even be in the title game. They had a chance to do what had never been done — win it all with five freshman starters.

That dream, as exciting and historic as it sounded, is now just a big what-if.

That doesn’t last for UK fans. They remember championships in 1996 and ’98. Forgotten is the national runner-up that came in ’97.

A banner will hang in Rupp Arena to honor this season. But it will not join the previous eight that shine in the spotlight when the lights dim and the Cats are introduced before each home game.

The banner will say “2014 NCAA Runner Up.” But those don’t matter. They take up space.

Fans in the streets of Lexington lost their feeling of euphoria in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Because for the first time in more than three weeks, the Cats had fallen short. The miraculous run had come to a screeching halt with the ultimate prize so frustratingly close.

There are no moral victories in UK basketball. There’s no “good try,” no “keep your heads up,” and no “we’ll get it next year.”

These fans only deal in extremes.

UK didn’t win the National Championship.

So shockingly, so suddenly, that’s how this story ends.