NEW ORLEANS – The University of North Carolina has won 6 NCAA men’s basketball championships.

The 2021-22 team fell short in its quest to win No. 7, losing to Kansas 72-69 in the NCAA Tournament title game Monday night in the Caesars Superdome.

But even though this Tar Heels team won’t be remembered the way those championship teams are, it still earned the right to be remembered for all they did – not just for the one thing it didn’t do.

“I can’t remember a time in my life where I should be disappointed, but I’m just filled with so much pride,” first-year head coach Hubert Davis said. “I’m so proud of these guys of what they have done for themselves individually, as a team, the way that they have represented our university, this program, our community.

“I can’t ask for them to do any more than what they have done. And I am extremely proud of each one of them.”

Two years ago, UNC went 14-19. There wasn’t an NCAA Tournament because of COVID, but had there been, the Tar Heels’ wouldn’t have been in the field. Last year it lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Then coach Roy Williams, who had led his alma mater to 3 national titles, retired and Davis, a former Tar Heel great and a Williams assistant, took the reins.

Not too long ago this team was 12-6 and 4-3 in the ACC.

For a while a bid to the NCAA Tournament wasn’t a certainty, and when the it did arrive it came packaged as a No. 8 seed.

But this UNC team finished the regular season on a high note – winning decisively at Duke in Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game.

The Heels stumbled again in the ACC Tournament, but saved their best basketball of the season for the NCAA Tournament, winning 4 times to reach the Final Four. Along they way, they knocked out defending national champion and No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 4 UCLA, a Final Four team last year.

On Saturday they faced Coach K and their biggest rival again – for the first time in the NCAAs – and they ended the career of college basketball’s most successful coach.
That put them in position to do what the 1982 and 1993 teams did – win a championship in the Superdome.

For much of Monday night it looked like they would do that – and maybe even do it with more ease than those other teams that didn’t prevail until the final seconds.

But the team that came from so far back to earn this opportunity watched the Jayhawks come from behind in record fashion – overcoming the largest halftime deficit (15 points) and largest deficit overall (16 points) to win an NCAA Tournament title game.

Star big man Armando Bacot was a metaphor for his team.

He had to be helped from the floor late in Saturday’s victory after spraining an ankle, but he did return. Davis promised after the game that Bacot, who had 11 points and 21 rebounds against Duke, would be ready for Kansas.

Bacot estimated that he spent 15 of the last 24 hours before Monday’s loss “just trying to get my ankle better.”

He said that shortly before tip-off, “I really couldn’t even jump.”

Still he played 38 minutes and had 15 points and 15 rebounds.

But like the team as a whole, he couldn’t quite finish.

With less than a minute to go and the Heels trailing by a point, the ankle gave out as Bacot tried to drive to the basket and he lost the ball.

“I just rolled it again,” Bacot said after being helped up the stairs to the riser for post-game interviews.

After a timeout David McCormack, who had battled Bacot throughout the game, took advantage of his absence by making a hook shot for a 3-point lead with 22 seconds left.

Carolina didn’t score again.

Davis said it was a “privilege” to watch how hard Bacot worked during the offseason.

He said he felt bad for Bacot during his first 2 seasons because the absence of post-season success prevented “such a great kid and an unbelievable player” from having “that Carolina experience.”

Davis said Bacot came to Carolina “to be a part of the great history of this program.”

The rookie coach said he was still processing everything he had experienced this season.

“I will say this,” he added. “I like – not I like – I love what I’m doing. I just love being the head coach at the University of North Carolina and coaching these kids.”

Bacot said Davis “has been amazing all year.”

“I would say that this season has been successful,” Bacot added. “We’ve all loved being here all year and just playing for Coach Davis. This won’t be the last time y’all will see this program here.”