A shocking end to a near-perfect story

Kentucky players sit on the back of a golf cart as they are taken back to the locker room after their press conference after their Final Four game of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, In. Photo by Jonathan Krueger

By Kevin Erpenbeck

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Time has passed, the team has landed back in Lexington and the tears have dried from (most of) the fans’ faces.

And still, the ending to UK men’s basketball season doesn’t seem real.

Throughout the entire year, the Cats wove this beautiful tale of a team sacrificing individual success and fame for the purpose of winning a national title. But during the rising action of the plot, an extra element was inserted into the story, making it that much more interesting: the unselfish players had a chance to become the first college basketball team in history to finish 40-0.

Their tale made you want to stick around to the end. You wanted to see that glorious storybook ending.

For a while, it seemed absolute. The Cats had made it through the stretch of the non-conference schedule untouched and battled through the grind that is the SEC. On March 19, UK had reached the climax — the NCAA Tournament. It was the last challenge to overcome; the final hill to climb. Everyone expected it to be the most intense part of the Cats’ ongoing novel, but with what they had seen leading up to the tournament, they anticipated the team getting past that mountain peak.

With UK’s thrilling 68-66 win over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, it seemed to be all falling action from there. The Cats would beat a Wisconsin team they had faced (and defeated) the year before in the Final Four, and for the perfect ending, top a fan-loathed Duke program in the National Championship. The image of blue and white confetti falling from the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium while the digital video-board in the center of the arena displayed “40-0” was picture perfect. How could it end any other way?

Because real life isn’t told like a storybook. Reality can be, and often is, cruel.

Instead, Wisconsin took over as UK’s malicious publisher. By beating UK in the semifinals, the Badgers took the Cats’ book, ripped out the final chapter, and with a black sharpie, wrote a gigantic “38-1” on the last page.

End of story.

It feels unsettling. History was about to be made, and probably would never have been duplicated. UK’s magnificent season was so enthralling to follow and it got better and better with each passing game. The backstory was intriguing, the characters were likeable and the plot was gripping. To have it not end the way that was expected seems disheartening, and as a result, makes the whole story feel extremely hollow.

“Season is over,” said a teary-eyed Tyler Ulis after the loss to Wisconsin. “We did all that for nothing.”

A story told with an unfinished ending.