A Sad Reality: The Jordan Bell Edition

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By the time the Ducks made an extended run all the way into the Tournament’s Final Four, I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to root for Oregon to win it all. So naturally, when the clock ran out Saturday night solidifying North Carolina’s narrow 77-76 win over the Ducks, I was satisfied with the result.

That said, the ending of the Oregon vs. UNC game is something that I and other worshippers of college basketball will never forget — nor will Jordan Bell. It was the brutal reality of March Madness summed up in one sequence: Bell, the Ducks junior forward and best defensive player, failing to grab defensive rebounds on back-to-back missed Tarheel free throws, sealing North Carolina’s hard-fought trip to the title game. Oregon’s season: over.

Moments later, Bell found himself sobbing at the edge of the court, beside himself for not remembering to execute one of the most fundamental actions in basketball, boxing out, at the most important moment of his career to date. What’s most shocking is that Bell, who grabbed 16 rebounds and swatted four shots in the game, was the least likely candidate on the Ducks roster to surrender his physical edge in such a moment.

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. The Seahawks didn’t run the ball. The Falcons couldn’t hold on for a Super Bowl up 28-3. And now sports fans can feast on this too: “The Oregon Ducks forgot to box out.”

Sports have an ugly side, a side that can be harshly revealed, especially during times of Madness. With the lights shining bright and the cameras pointed, mistakes during March Madness are often blown into hot topics for weeks to come.

It’s easy to forget that these athletes are college students. Put simply, it’s an unfair game that puts them in a vulnerable spot whenever they mess up — which they inevitably will.

We saw it during the tournament’s opening week when Vanderbilt junior Matthew Fisher-Davis fouled intentionally with his team up late by one — a move that no professional player would ever commit. We saw it again with Bell’s mental collapse in the final seconds after he dominated defensively against one of the toughest teams in the country.

But remember this: Without Bell, the Ducks would have been blown out of the building on Saturday night. There’s no way they have even made it to the Final Four in the first place without him. Already down Chris Boucher, the Ducks competed play for play with the mighty size and athleticism of the Tar Heels, and nobody stood taller against them than Bell. They were right there at the end even after their anchor Dillon Brooks had fouled out and tournament star Tyler Dorsey was struggling with his shot.

Bell played his heart out, and even though he messed up during the game’s final seconds, those last moments are not what cost Oregon the game and its season. The Ducks committed 16 turnovers — as a team. Dana Altman’s undersized squad grabbed 43 rebounds, the same amount as the Tar Heels — as a team. And they will fly back to Eugene with a season full of memories that will last a lifetime — as a team.

Remember this too: nobody’s perfect. As much as it stings now, I guarantee you that Bell will learn from his mistakes and enter the next chapter of his basketball career mentally stronger than ever before.

Even though Bill Buckner will always be remembered for his infamous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the first facts that show up on his Wikipedia are that he made an All-Star Team and won a batting title. Likewise, Bell will be known for his crucial mistakes, but his résumé already includes leading his team into the Final Four, and NBA teams are out there waiting to call his name.

Jordan Bell will be remembered for forgetting to box out the Tar Heels in the Final Four. But one play (or two) should never define the result of a basketball game, and certainly not a career. It will take a while for Bell to get over the loss, but in time, I hope he does.

It’s a sad reality to an otherwise beautiful sporting event.

Josh Yuen covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].