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Final losses aside, Virginia men's

You weren't the only one praying in front of the television five days ago. At approximately 2:30 Friday afternoon, I slid off the couch and onto my knees, palms pressed together in what turned out to be a vain attempt to will the Virginia men's basketball team past 12th-seeded Gonzaga and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Dan Dickau and the Zags sent the Cavaliers to a season-ending third consecutive loss, but the lasting image of Virginia's 2000-01 season need not be its 0-for-March finish. Instead of tearing your hair out because the Cavs got bounced in the first round in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, rejoice in the fact that they made the tourney for the first time in four years. Instead of bemoaning their blowout loss at Maryland to end the regular season, remember the last-second win over No. 3 Duke and the 20-point shellacking of the No. 2 Tar Heels.

A mere two years ago, when Pete Gillen's first squad had six healthy scholarship players, you'd have sold your left hand to see the Cavaliers beat four top-10 teams, including Duke, Carolina and Maryland. While you lament Virginia's sluggish finish, I'd rather celebrate its first top-10 appearance in eight years and its emergence as one of the most exciting teams ever to take the floor at University Hall.

A hearty thanks goes to the team as a whole, for its obviously central role in making U-Hall the place to be this winter. From chanting recruits' names in the waning minutes of Virginia's 11-point win over Wake Forest to staying up all night in Onesty Hall before the Carolina beatdown, I couldn't have picked a better season to return to the stands from my old spot on press row.

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