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Sunday June 26th

'Somebody’s got to pinch me': Students in New Orleans react to NCAA championship

UNC students mourn a national championship loss to Kansas in New Orleans on Monday, April 4, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC students mourn a national championship loss to Kansas in New Orleans on Monday, April 4, 2022.

Born. Bred. Dead.

No matter what happened after last night's national championship game, senior Hallie Rouse stood in the tunnel of Caesars Superdome and said that she was a Tar Heel born, bred and dead.

"I feel like I'm going out there to play, honestly," Rouse said. "I'm nervous, stomach in butterflies, everything. I'm super excited, but super nervous at the same time."

She said it would mean the world to her if the Tar Heels won the national championship. For luck, she and her roommate even did the same face paint they did for the Final Four game against Duke on Saturday.

But the Tar Heels fell to the Kansas Jayhawks, 72-69, following a second-half Kansas comeback that was the largest in NCAA title game history.

'Somebody’s got to pinch me'

Early last week, Final Four and potential national championship tickets were distributed through the UNC lottery process, leaving only a few days for students to assemble travel plans to get to New Orleans.

Hundreds of students made the journey to the tournament.

Senior Breah Walker said that there was not a second to breathe during the Duke game and her heart was pounding the whole time.

She said the experience was surreal.

“If you’d told me, ‘Carolina will be in the national championship and you’re going to be there,' I would have laughed in your face two months ago,” Walker said.

Senior Abby Baggett also attended the Final Four game on Saturday night. Being in the center of the tournament was incredible, she said.

“Somebody’s got to pinch me," Baggett said. "This is a dream. It was just incredible, and I think the fact that it was Duke just made it that much more."

The Final Four matchup — the rival teams' first in March Madness — was a back and forth battle all night.

It wasn’t until the last seconds of the Duke game that fans knew it would be a win for UNC, sophomore Kim Navarro said.

“Once (Duke) missed that last free throw, I was like, 'Oh. We made it',” she said.

That was the moment that she knew the Tar Heels would be going to the national championship — their first appearance in the title game since 2017.

Baggett said she was nervous hours before tip-off, but believed that UNC was fired up and ready to play.

Regardless of the outcome, Baggett said that she is proud of the team, and she couldn’t have asked for a better end to the season.

The season would end with 4.3 seconds and Caleb Love's last missed attempt at a  3-pointer, Kansas red and blue confetti raining down in the Superdome.

'It's for all of you'

The Tar Heel squad returned to Chapel Hill on Tuesday to a crowd of fans waiting for their arrival at the Dean E. Smith Center.

The players lined up underneath a screen with a photo of them that read "Proud of this team. Proud of this staff. Proud to be North Carolina."

Head coach Hubert Davis spoke to the crowd gathered at the Smith Center.

"You guys are such an encouragement to us," Davis said. "You helped us this entire season, your love and your support for us, cheering us on. It made us play harder, it made us practice harder, it made us prepare harder — For you guys, it's not just for us. It's for all of you, and I just wanted to say thank you so much."

To Navarro, what makes the Tar Heels unforgettable is their ability to create community at the University.

“If there's anything that can bring UNC students together, it's basketball,” Navarro said.

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