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UMBC coach says Virginia's run to Final Four championship game 'great story' about resiliency  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

MINNEAPOLIS -- Maryland-Baltimore County coach Ryan Odom says his program and Virginia will be “forever connected.”

Odom’s Retrievers made history in last year’s NCAA tournament with the first upset of a No. 1 seed by a No. 16.

After every Virginia win in this year’s NCAA tournament, including Saturday's over Auburn to put it in the national championship game Monday against Texas Tech, the Cavaliers have been asked about their redemption story. They’ve embraced the narrative.

Kyle Guy, who made three free throws with 0.6 seconds left for the 63-62 win, has kept UMBC’s logo as the screensaver on his phone since 2018’s loss to remind himself of the lowest point in his life. Coach Tony Bennett continually has shared anecdotes about how adversity instilled togetherness and provided their biggest motivation.

Odom says he and his former players definitely have been “pulling for them” from back home and thinks Virginia’s story is great for sports.

“I think I speak for a lot of folks who love basketball and stories like this,” Odom told USA TODAY by phone Sunday. “You have a team and a staff that experienced a ton of heartbreak. To see them having that joy and success right now is what you want. You don’t want people to hurt. You want them to experience joy together. For me personally, I love seeing it.

“I’m not unlike the rest of the country. We’d love to see them win. Their loss to us, it certainly seems to have been a driving force. Especially in the offseason. What a great story and message to people about resiliency.”

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UMBC failed to make the NCAA tournament this year, losing in the America East tournament title game to Vermont. But the program has received better exposure than just about any team no longer playing with constant references from Bennett and players and multiple mentions in stories and on TV.

“You can’t really get away from that," Odom said. "We were asked about it every game, too. There’s nothing to complain about. It’s great for shining a light on our program. Last year was such a historic event that it didn’t just mean a lot to UMBC, it meant a lot to the country or anybody who loves sports or the underdogs.”

Odom, who says he has kept in touch with Bennett regularly since last March, says he couldn’t be happier for Virginia.

“They’re great people,” Odom says. “Now what we’re seeing this year is equally as exciting as what we did last year. For them to be able to come back from that, when you’re beaten down like that ... nobody’s ever experienced what they’re going through right now. Just like when we won that game last year, nobody experienced what we were going through. There’s no real blueprint for it. They’re creating it, which is really cool.

“Now, honestly, it needs to be about Virginia and what they’ve been able to accomplish this year, with a lot of pressure on them because of our upset. They’ve made it to obviously the pinnacle with one game left to determine whether they’re champs.”

Odom says he rushed home from his son’s basketball game to watch Virginia on Saturday, and praised the Cavaliers’ perseverance in that wild ending and in their overtime victory against Purdue in the Elite Eight a week ago.

“We have a saying at UMBC, and we used it all last year — ‘champions always answer.’ I think that’s what you saw in particular in those two games Virginia won,” Odom says. “They didn’t get lucky and win the game. Kyle Guy had to make those shots. He had to make the (three-pointer) and three free throws in front of 70,000 people. That’s not lucky. It’s not easy to make those shots.”

Asked if he saw Virginia’s chances of cutting down the nets on Monday as karmic payback, Odom says he believes UVA’s winning has more to do with the character of the program and the way Bennett and the team handled last year’s heartbreak with “grace.”

"When you do that, live that way, it ends up coming back to you,” Odom said. “That’s what we’re seeing now.

“I think that’s what their program is all about — humility. When you attack it together that way, as they did, you have a really good chance for success. It’s never as bad as it seems. Yeah, they were the first to lose to a No. 16 seed. It was one game. Now they’re in the title game.”

 

 

 

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