I’m not a reactionary fan. I’m not one of those guys who feels the need to talk trash and predict national championships after every win and then calls for the coach’s head after every loss. I don’t like those fans. Actually, I do like to make fun of them, which is why you’ll see a lot of jabs here at NC State and Clemson, two schools who seem to harbor lots of those guys.
So generally, I try not to get too worked up over games, particularly losses. These are college kids after all, and I know they want to win, but not all teams can be good.
But today was different. I have never seen a game quite like the one that Virginia played against North Carolina today. If Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage had decided to fire Pete Gillen immediately after the end of that game, I would have applauded. The game was a travesty.
The Cavaliers never tried. Not once. When the score was just 11-3, I told my wife (a giddy Tar Heel) that Carolina was going to win by 30. I was wrong. The lead grew to 31 in just the first half. The Heels nearly pushed the lead over 50 before all but trying to give UVA baskets near the end to make it seem respectable in the box score.
Right off the tip, it was clear that Virginia didn’t want to be there. The players were playing at half speed. Point guard Sean Singletary would jog up the court with the ball and then stop just past midcourt, a crime that middle school coaches would scream about. When the inevitable double team came (usually facilitated by another Cavalier idly jogging by, bringing his man within inches of the ball), not one player could be bothered to come to help. Trap, turnover. Trap, turnover. On the other end, two Tar Heel passes were more than enough to produce a dunk or wide-open three. The normally itchy trigger hands of Pete Gillen never signaled for his signature early timeouts. He didn’t scream and yell. He didn’t yank the starters for five fresh and eager legs. He seemed to care just as little as the players.
Now, let me give some perspective here. To many Virginia fans, North Carolina is the top rival. Sure, some would rather beat Duke and the Virginia Tech rivalry has gained steam in recent years, but the Tar Heels are still public enemy number one. When they come to town, it’s one of the few sure sellout games in University Hall. Behind the frenzied crowds, many undermatched Cavalier squads have risen up and upset the mighty Heels. Hell, they actually had a five year home winning streak going against Carolina.
This season, UVA had fallen to 1-6 in the conference after a tough road loss against Virginia Tech. For the Cavaliers, a team that was ranked as high as #19 just a few weeks ago, this game had some urgency. The season was mostly a bust, but an upset over the Heels would give them a glimmer of hope. It would be a second win over a top-ten squad (they crushed Arizona by 18 in November although it now seems like five years ago), the kind of bullet point on their resume that could possibly get the Cavs a bid despite a sub-par ACC record.
So, there was plenty of reason for Virginia to be fired up: an excited crowd, a big rival, a rebound game after a tough loss, a last chance to save the season.
None of that seemed to matter. The team didn’t quit; they never even started.
It was a disgrace. It was a disgrace to everyone who’s ever pulled on a Cavalier jersey. It was a disgrace to everyone who ever attended the University of Virginia. It was a disgrace to the thousands who paid money to attend the game. It was a disgrace to ESPN, who decided this game was worthy of national attention. It was a disgrace to the Tar Heels, who actually seemed a bit embarrassed by how easy it was. It was a disgrace to the ACC, a conference that prides itself on competition from top to bottom.
If Pete Gillen has any pride left, and after today I wonder, he will resign before he’s fired. There is no chance that Virginia can bring him back now. You don’t pay a coach six figures to watch him watch his team put forth no effort at all. Teams can lose and they can have bad seasons, but the one crime they cannot commit is apathy. The players are on full scholarships and the coaches are paid well. They have to try.
Today, Virginia didn’t try. And for that crime, there is only one penalty. Pete Gillen must go.