Still, he acknowledged that the season “has been a long, hard slog to get to this point.”
The players, of course, are not compensated for the burden that they are being asked to undertake this season. There is a love of the game, but they have been required to take virus tests daily since they began arriving in Indianapolis nearly a week before the tournament began. Once here, they have been restricted to their hotels except to practice, play and wander to a downtown baseball field to get some fresh air. Some have used the moment to protest against the N.C.A.A. depriving them of the right to make money off their fame, and to rail against the inequities between the men’s and women’s tournaments.
The weight of all that, along with realization of a four-year journey with his teammates coming to an end, was too much to bear for Iowa’s all-American center, Luka Garza.
When he came to the bench in the final seconds of the second-seeded Hawkeyes’ loss to Oregon on Monday, he buried his head on the shoulder of Coach Fran McCaffery. The sobbing, though, continued into the locker room and he later struggled to maintain his composure while speaking to reporters on a videoconference.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Garza said. “It’s so surreal that it kind of just all hit me at once that this is the last time that I’ll put on this jersey.”
The victory by Oregon was the 15th by the lower seeded team in the tournament’s first 33 games. The Ducks were playing their first game of the tournament, having been sent through to the second round because Virginia Commonwealth was forced to drop out because of several positive tests after it arrived here.
As the tournament heads to the second weekend, the line is as blurred as ever between top dogs and underdogs, who if anything have been emboldened by the fight. Corvallis, Ore., isn’t the only place where midnight hasn’t arrived yet.
“As I told the guys, we’re not going to let somebody put a number in front of our name and tell us that’s our worth or that’s our value,” Oral Roberts Coach Paul Mills said late Sunday night. “We are not capitulating to anybody here.”