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Thursday, May 23
The Indiana Daily Student

UNC: the real team of destiny

It wasn't supposed to end this way for the Illini. They had it all. The team-first assist-oriented offense that beat 37 teams, pesky defense, kids with hearts as large as the state they represented, and a coach and fan-base that believed in them. It was all there. \nThe bandwagon grew with each win and eventually turned into a standing-room only double-decker bus with people waiting at each stop to hop on for this magical ride. Their orange-clad fans engulfed every post-season venue in which they played, bringing home-court advantage in Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis. \nAnd when tragedy struck in the form of Bruce Weber's mom's death, it inspired and brought a sense of purpose to the players and their remaining season. They would play for her, and when Coach Weber refered to his mother as a reason for the Illini's unfathomable 15-point comeback against Arizona, destiny seemed to be on their side.\nGoing into Monday night's championship game, the average fan wanted Illinois to win. The Illini represented the underdog, the team full of energy, excitement and fun, a team in their first championship game appearance in their 100-year existence. Illinois seemed poised to knock off North Carolina, a university storied in basketball tradition, a team full of future NBA stars. \nAnd, Monday night, it was almost as if they dressed the part. Weber's pumpkin-orange blazer represented the fun and enthusiasm of his team. He looked goofy, almost out of place.\nNorth Carolina stormed out of the tunnel in their hooded warm-ups, seeming more professional, collected and cool, like a prize-fighter itching to throw a knock-out punch in the first round.\nAnd that they did. Climbing out to a half-time lead of 13, they seemed ready to claim their first title since 1993. But those Illini have heart. In sports, it's clichéd to say "never count these guys out," but Dee Brown and the boys brought new meaning to the phrase this year. \nBut just when it looked like Illinois was about to pull off another monumental upset, Luther Head threw away a pass, missed a three, and the Illini didn't convert on their last five shots attempt.\nAnd in the end, they lost 75-70. 'The talent' trumped 'the team' and the powder blue ended the Illini's fairy tale of a season. The orange which once burned so bright faded to rust. \nThere would be no happy ending.\nBut wasn't Carolina the real team of destiny anyway? After all, when the juniors Rashad McCants and Sean May decided to attend North Carolina as freshmen, they made a pact to return North Carolina to national prominence after the program suffered a bit of a tailspin. \nFinishing an embarrassing 8-20 their freshman year, Monday's title brought sweet vindication to the group. They finished what they started three years ago.\nAnd then there's Roy Williams -- always the bridesmaid, never the bride. At Kansas, he lost in his two trips to the national title game. So it was only fitting that he won his first title at North Carolina, his alma mater, the university he loved. No longer could the media dog him as "the greatest college basketball coach never to win it all." He finally put his critics to rest.\nAfter the game, Rashad McCants face said it all. Lying on the floor, with the camera tight on him, his face expressed no emotion. Someone placed a hat on his had, but still, a blank stare on his face. Did we really do it? \nYes, Rashad, smile. You and your Tar Heels' destiny was fulfilled.

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