Bennett: UMBC Loss Gave Us “The Right Perspective”

Tony Bennett and Virginia haven’t forgotten about their opening-round loss last March, but they’re not dwelling on it either

Tiki and Tierney
March 05, 2019 - 5:23 pm
Tony Bennett Virginia ACC College Basketball

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Over the last decade, Tony Bennett has emerged as one of the best, most consistent coaches in college basketball. But after losing to No. 16 UMBC – as the top overall seed, no less – in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Virginia’s program could have easily come undone.

It hasn’t. Virginia (27-2) is ranked No. 2 in the country.

“I think it’s the right balance,” Bennett said on Tiki & Tierney, referring to the impact that loss had on the program. “I think you can’t just ignore (it). It was such an amazing year last year and, as I’ve talked about, a painful, humbling loss. But how you respond, you have to use it in the right way. As we’ve talked about, it’s part of our story. You use it for the right motivation, it gives you the right perspective on things far beyond just the game, and you come back and you go after it. You don’t dwell on it. I don’t know if you can forget it, but you just keep going. 

“As any of us have moments in life where we’ve faced a tough loss, failure or adversity – it’s produced some things in us that help us in or vocation and in our sport and beyond,” Bennett continued. “That has definitely happened. You never know in the name of basketball what can happen in one-and-out situations, so you be thankful for what you’ve got and you lay it on the line.”

Virginia has lost just twice all season, both times to Duke – once in Durham by a deuce, and once at home by 10. 

“They’re just a high-quality team,” Bennett said. “I told our team, ‘Every game from here on out, it’s 40-minute territory. You’re not going to get away with anything – it doesn’t have to be perfect play, but it has to be consistent, solid play for the majority of the game and winning those possessions. You just have to be at a high level against anybody you’re going to face in our league and really from here on out. Duke, obviously what they are, you’re not going to beat them with anything but a high-level performance from start to finish.’”

With a home win over Louisville (19-11) on Saturday, Virginia can win its fourth ACC regular-season title in six years. Virginia fans, however, are itching for the program’s first Final Four since 1984.

Bennett was asked if he’s anxious about that as well.

“Anxious? Maybe hopeful is the word,” said Bennett, who guided Virginia to the Elite Eight in 2016. “I have a strong, burning desire to win a national championship and take this program to the Final Four. Last year’s experience, it showed me that and it stoked a fire in me, but it also showed me that if that never happens, I will still be okay. I think you have to be freed up to know that because there are no guarantees in this game or in this life. I try not to place everything on that . . . but I’m always hopeful.”