After such a spectacular and disappointing loss, it’s easy to forget that only weeks ago the Hogs looked like they might not even make the tournament. Their subsequent play secured them both a tournament berth and redemption in the fan base. Yes, their performances this season were alternately dismal and inspiring, often in the same week. Yes, making it to the second round only to get stomped by the Chosen Ones can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Yes, next year might be even less promising.
But the Razorbacks never gave us reason not to hope. Why else did we watch that last half? I genuinely believed, and I still do to some extent, that we had a decent chance against the number one team in the country. If we ever allow ourselves to get mired in regret and hardened against hope, we’ve already lost every game we’re ever going to watch. We’ve become losers of a different sort.
Maybe that’s what makes sport more than mere diversion. Sport conditions us to poke holes in the impossible. Sport unites us in hope, a quantity that defies reason in any pursuit. Reason never drained a buzzer-beater, hit a walk-off home run or pulled down a Hail Mary. Reason has no business dictating limits to people who transcend them again and again. Reason is for losers — it’s defined by limits — and sport reminds us of that.
Our disappointment can’t possibly match that of Townes, Hill, Thomas, Ervin, Hunter and Weems, the six seniors who ended their college careers on Sunday evening. Even for those who will get an honest look from the NBA, this was a bigger loss than we can fathom. We might have lived through their frustration, but we could never truly feel it.
Despite the outcome, each carved out a career and a season we won’t soon forget. Townes became a better rebounder and an even more reliable shooter, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a reliable sixth man at the next level. Hill won’t ever be remembered as simply a defensive threat after that bucket in Atlanta. Fans embraced Thomas for his tenacity and spirit despite his lowered offensive production. Though he was the team’s most reliable whipping boy, Ervin always found a way to redeem himself. Hunter’s leadership was never more apparent than late this season. And Weems finished clawing his way from JuCo upstart to all-conference in the SEC.
This team wouldn’t let their losses define them, and we shouldn’t either. Even after a season full of missed opportunities, I wish them the best. They’re going to get on with their lives, and we should look to the future as well. Though it may seem like a tiresome refrain, there is always — always — another season.