The only thing I could think about once the "my God, that happened" haze wore off in the wake of Thursday's loss was the end of Unforgiven, the ultimate anti-Western film featuring the ultimate anti-hero. The movie, which won best picture in 1992, centers around Bill Munny, a former murderer of women and children who has attempted to change his ways, but ultimately finds himself killing again. The character who would be the "hero" in any "normal" narrative is Little Bill Daggett, a man of the law who speaks well and does right.
In the film's climatic scene, Munny's gun misfires, providing Daggett the divine break he believes shines on those who do right. Still, Munny manages to gain the upper-hand and finds a wounded Daggett lying beneath his gun, leading to this exchange:
Little Bill Daggett: I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house.
Will Munny: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
Daggett is killed and Munny goes home and on with his life.
If any Louisville team has ever deserved better, it was this one.
Look at the key elements at the end of the game:
--The most humble and selfless of leaders is forced to helplessly watch the excruciating final minutes of his last game from the bench because of a toe injury.
--The seldom-used in-state freshman has the chance to be a hero after burying a clutch three-pointer, but then comes up short on the front end of a one-and-one which could have secured the victory.
--A much-maligned player who missed a key free-throw in the conference championship game isn't given a shot at redemption in a nearly identical situation.
Add in the fact that Morehead had a 57% free-throw shooter bury a pair in the game's final minute and that they recorded their first "blocked shot" of the game at the final buzzer, and the whole thing was just completely...imperfect.
One of these things should have gone Louisville's way. When you do things the right way, especially in a day and age where that's not the norm, this isn't supposed to happen.
And yet here we are.
If you're looking for comfort, I still have none to give. The only semi-optimistic tidbit I can offer is that I don't think it will ever be worse than this. Without the benefit of the more accurate sense of perspective that time provides, I say that this is the most painful Louisville sports loss I've ever witnessed.
The most crushing aspect of Thursday, aside from the elements of the ending outlined above, is that the performance was such a deviation from what we've seen all season.
I thought it would take an out-of-body effort from Morehead to pull off the upset, and that isn't what happened at all. Louisville shot a better percentage than the Eagles, they recorded more steals, and had fewer turnovers. It was just so surprising to see the Cards get beat for so many 50/50 balls and make such poor decisions with the ball in their hands for much of the game. Kyle Kuric missed 3-of-4 free-throws, Terrence Jennings, Stephan Van Treese, and Gorgui Dieng combined for six total rebounds, and Peyton Siva played the worst game he has played and likely ever will play as a Louisville Cardinal.
And still the whole time you thought it would all end up being nothing more than a teaching lesson. "Survive and advance" would be the party line. It didn't happen, and that's the risk you run when you allow an opponent to hang around in a single elimination tournament.
The easiest thing to do in this situation is to say "well, the underclassmen will learn" and "we'll be back," but every chance you get in the tournament has to be valued every much as a late-game possession with the score tied. This team knew that, and it makes the fact that they're not playing anymore that much harder to stomach.
The most satisfying Louisville basketball season I've ever followed is over in the most unsatisfying fashion imaginable. That's the reality we're faced with, and, for lack of a better term, it sucks.
For all the frustrating decisions that Peyton Siva made on Thursday (still love him), allowing Demonte Harper to get that look at the end of the game was the worst. When a huge underdog is down by two and comes out of a timeout holding the ball with the clock running out, you know they're playing for the win. You make them hit a tough shot in the lane, but more than anything else, you make sure that the worst-case-scenario for your team is that the game goes to overtime. I still can't believe Peyton allowed Harper to get him falling back.
There's virtually no phone or Internet service on the island where we're vacationing, so this morning was the first time I'd checked my mail, twitter, Facebook, CC, etc. It was not enjoyable.
I don't endorse fighting your problems with alcohol, but North Captiva Island has not seen two people do more depressed drinking than Ms. CC and I did from about 4-6 on Thursday. I don't remember much from the period other than Michelle Branch's "Goodbye to You" emanating from here computer at one point and hearing what sounded like (read: was) sobbing.
Not the best afternoon/night.
We're hyperbolic on here a lot when it comes to Louisville basketball and our emotions, but seeing the look of absolute helplessness on Preston's face when we trailed 57-56 with about a couple of minutes to go immediately put a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Seeing him dazed after the game was almost too much to take.
It just doesn't get worse.
The no-call at the end of the game has, I'm sure, warranted a great deal of attention, but the foul call on Terrence Jennings that sent Faried to the line when we were up four was huge. I didn't mind it much at the time because I didn't think there was any way he would stroke both, but it certainly looks pretty enormous in hindsight.
People who don't understand will always try to provide words of comfort in the wake of the loss that ends Louisville's basketball season, but it never helps.
"Derby's right around the corner." "Spring football will be fun." "The weather's finally getting nice."
Shut up. I don't want to hear it. Let me grieve the only way I know how: beer and mini-airheads.
We can talk rationally about this in a month. Maybe.
Anyway, I don't have time to talk more or proofread the little that I've written, but I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm not refusing to come home and face reality. Or, more to the point, I wanted to make sure you all know that I'm still alive.
The ending was as bad as it gets, bit the preceding four months were so great. Thanks to all of you for reading and for making this season such an enjoyable one in our little world.