MINNEAPOLIS — Virginia, a nice tortoise of a program with a warmish 114-year history, a knack for deliberative basketball and an unthinkable splat of 13 weeks ago, spent Monday night scaling the final jagged rungs into a pinnacle. When finally it made the final, agonizing steps in overtime, reached the top and looked around, it understood a sense long associated only with other people such as Duke or North Carolina, the neighboring hares that constantly left it among the overshadowed.
It had become the very first first-time men’s college basketball national winner in 13 years, and could see back through the landscape of one hell of a story. It could see Texas Tech, the finalist Virginia outlasted from 85-77 in that overtime, a group so great it’d struck on the NCAA tournament like some fantastic wind coming from the large plains of Lubbock, felling Michigan State, Gonzaga, Michigan and Buffalo.
Gaze back from up high, and Virginia may see the carnival of plays that helped it wriggle from doom in life-shortening games from Purdue, Auburn and Texas Tech. Squint more difficult, and it might see clear back to March 2018, when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed in tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed, a bewildering 74-54 thud against Maryland Baltimore County, the nadir of a five years of tortured Marches. Yet right in front, it might observe the droves in orange and blue in U.S. Bank Stadium, reveling as noise cascaded from fans who seldom dared dream of anything.