COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCAV) -- As the cliche goes, Virginia has tried to take it one game at a time throughout this men's basketball season. But last year's historic upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament has loomed over the program throughout the year.
So on Thursday, as the Cavaliers prepared to meet No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb in the first round of this year's tournament, they admitted to also thinking ahead to this week.
“I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to this all year," guard Ty Jerome said in the team's locker room at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC. "Because in the back of my mind it was about getting back to this. Getting back to this position and avenging last year.”
UVA was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's NCAA bracket -- but became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed when the Wahoos were upset by UMBC in the first round.
Thursday's traditional open practice in Columbia also meant an open UVA locker room beforehand. That brought another heavy dose of questions about last year's UMBC loss.
“We knew that all year. That that was going to be the question of the year, whether we’re going to be ready for the tournament," UVA sophomore guard De'Andre Hunter said. "I knew people were going to disregard what we did during the regular season, and basically focus on this.”
“I don’t think anyone’s ever going to forget about it. Including me," said UVA junior guard Kyle Guy. "So it’s just trying to put it as far behind and never forget, but definitely move past it.”
Moving past that loss can start by beating Gardner-Webb on Friday afternoon. The winner of that game gets either Oklahoma or Ole Miss in the second round on Sunday.
The Wahoos say the way last year ended has fueled them throughout this season. UVA went 28-2 during the regular season, shared the ACC regular season title after going 16-2 in the conference, and spent all year ranked in the top five nationally.
They believe the UMBC loss will continue to motivate this postseason.
“I think we’re more prepared than last year, in terms of like mentally," said sophomore forward Jay Huff. "I don’t think we overlooked the 16-seed last year, but at the same time it’s hard not to. It’s human nature.”
“We’re in charge of our story right now, of what can happen. We’re in complete control," said Guy. "I know the coaches are fired up. Probably a little bit more fired up than we are, to be honest. But we’re just level-headed guys and we’re focused and we’re ready to play.”
"Coach Bennett said it last night. Last year’s loss, it already took us to a place where we haven’t been," said Jerome. "We’re a new and improved team, and last year’s loss already took us to that place. We’ve used last year’s loss in the right way already, and now it’s about us, and time to put all of our energy into getting this done this year.”