Sportsline.com is currently counting down its list of "March Memories" looking back at memorable NCAA Tournament games in the past decade. UConn has earned two spots on the list, with its 2004 win over Duke checking in at No. 5 and its 2006 loss to George Mason coming in at No. 4. Painful as it was, I tried to take a look back.
I would like to think that five years is enough time to get over a loss, I would like to think that a trip to last year's Final Four took the pain away, and I would like to think I could bring myself to write the words "George Mason" without grimacing. I would like to think that, but I cannot, because five years is not enough time to get over what happened on that day in March of 2006.
Forgive me, I know that paragraph was overdramatic, but that is only because I cannot bring myself to talk about George Mason in rational terms. I have spent the better part of a day trying to come up with a crafty way to sum up the game and the better part of five years trying to forget it ever happened, but I can do neither.
Healthy or not, there has been no constant in my life quite like UConn basketball. My grandfather played basketball at the school before Jim Calhoun was alive. My father spent his days there as an undergraduate calling basketball games for the student radio station. I was raised to be a Husky, and in 2006, my freshman year in Storrs, I probably spent more time in Gampel Pavillion then I did in my own dorm room. That's why, on March 26, I was in the Verizon Center, staring on in disbelief as UConn (UConn!) lost to George Mason.
It was not supposed to be like that. UConn was supposed to win their third title in eight years and become the unquestioned king of college basketball. The team had four first round draft picks, a Hall of Fame coach and a clear path to the Final Four.
At times I have been able to convince myself that George Mason's 86-84 victory was always supposed to happen. I like to picture that UConn team as a Shakespearean hero, complete with the fatal flaw of underestimating their opponents as they counted future paychecks. If that was the case then George Mason merely delivered the deathblow, as Albany and Washington each came within a whisker of knocking UConn off.
Or maybe 2006 was just Cinderella's time to finally make it to the last dance and UConn just happened to be the team that had to lose to make that happen.
Either way, all I know for sure is that UConn lost a game it should have won. Yes, George Mason played a perfect game and they deserve all the credit in the world for that. I have even gotten to the point where I can admit that George Mason deserved to win the game. But when I close my eyes all I can picture is the way I felt when Denham Brown's desperation 3 rimmed out and 19,000 George Mason fans began to celebrate: devastated, numb and shocked. George Mason may have outplayed UConn, but that does not mean they should have. Maybe the problem is that both then and now I have the same mentality that the team did: "We're UConn, we don't lose to teams like George Mason."