UNC-Oregon was a beautiful disaster that was thrilling, unwatchable and heartbreaking

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Woof. That’s all you can really say about the Oregon-North Carolina national semifinal in Phoenix, if you wanted to say anything at all, thus risking the chance of retaining the smallest memory from a game everybody will hope to forget. How can a 77-76 Final Four game involving the ACC and Pac-12 champions, one a No. 1 seed and one of the most storied programs in college basketball history and the other a thrill-a-minute squad with a handful of stars, be such a dog? How could a game that came down to the final seconds and was tight for the final five minutes be so horrific to watch it should have come with a TV-MA tag?

Was it UNC, up one point, missing four free throws in the final six seconds?

Was it Oregon, down one point, failing to rebound two of those free throws in the final seconds?

(Getty Images)
NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Was it Jordan Bell, who had been so great off the glass in Oregon’s defeat of Kansas last week and was so again on Saturday, literally failing to touch anybody on those two missed free throws, treating the most crucial defensive rebound of his life like he was lined up alone in the final seconds of a 15-point loss – and then doing the same exact thing one minute later?

Was it an officiating crew that featured everybody’s least-favorite referee, Ted Valentine, clogging up the game with ridiculous whistles, ticky-tack fouls that disqualified star players and actions that suggested they believed the 77,000 fans in Phoenix were there to see them?

Was it Oregon starting the second half 2-16 from beyond the arc?

Was it Theo Pinson missing layup after layup, like an overzealous third-grader in a layup line?

Was it both teams combining to shoot 0-11 from the field between down the stretch and only breaking the streak on a ridiculous shot that hit the front of the rim, somehow bounced backward, sat on the base of the rim for what seemed like an eternity and then dropped into the basket, defying the laws of Naismith’s basketball and Newton’s motion with one flick of the wrist?

Was it all the mishandling, bad passing, fumbling, recklessness and out of control play?

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Was it North Carolina begging – begging – Oregon to saunter into Monday night’s title game against Gonzaga and the Ducks bravely staying in the game then, in the final three minutes, declining the invite by bricking shots that would have cut the lead to one possession, playing butterfingers with the basketball and diving around the court like the game was being held on a hockey rink?

Was it the fact that after all of that, Oregon playing great defense on a Carolina possession, didn’t panic by looking for a game-trying three pointer, made a beautiful pass with 6.4 seconds left to cut UNC’s lead to one, had those final 6.4 seconds play out as if they were writing a script and then, as mentioned above, failed to even attempt a box out on two missed Tar Heel free throws?

Was it how much agony Oregon was in after the game with young men – kids really – in tears, fully cognizant of the game they’d just let slip away, then handling it like the professionals they aren’t in the postgame press conference, as Bell did by saying “this is going to hurt forever?”



Or was it the question North Carolina players, coaches and fans have to be asking themselves: After failing to close on Saturday, what’s going to happen on Monday night when you, the mighty ACC blue blood, are playing a school nobody had heard of 20 years ago that’ll run you out of the gym if they catch a whiff of the stench from the semifinal’s victory non-defeat?