It seems like every Final Four someone declares, “This will go down as one of the best title games in recent memory,” until the following year when it happens all over again.
Two slowed down elite defensive teams didn’t garner much hype, but Monday night’s matchup in Minneapolis delivered on the promise that March Madness is the greatest show on earth.
388 days after Virginia got sideswiped in the first round by 16th seeded UMBC, the Cavaliers overcame a tenacious Texas Tech team to capture their first National Championship.
Cav’s coach Tony Bennett, who thanked his lord and savior, may have gotten some divine intervention from the big guy with the controversial victory over Auburn, but Virginia didn’t need any help from above for this one.
Well, actually, he got a huge gift from court side when Texas Tech coach Matt Wells missed the opportunity to foul the Cavaliers while leading by three points with 12.9 ticks on the clock. All their opponents could have netted was a pair and the Raiders would’ve regained control up by one. It’s mind boggling how players are taught to foul when playing catch up – but not to retain the lead.
With the Red Raiders up 68-65, Virginia found themselves in familiar territory. Twice earlier in the tournament they sank the tying basket at the regulation buzzer in their Elite Eight win over Purdue, and of course, the fateful defeat against Auburn in the national semifinals on Kyle Guy’s three free throws with 0.6 seconds left in the game.
Bennett’s boys were grace under pressure, putting on a clinic at the line in OT – a perfect 12-12.
Virginia got major offensive contributions from Guy and Ty Jerome, and insane defensive blocks by Mamadi Diakite, but it was De’Andre Hunter who stole the show.
The redshirted sophomore came late to the scoring party with a paltry five points in the first half, prevailing in the second half with 22 points for a career high 27. His shot from behind the arc at the end of regulation forced another frame.
Hunter, who missed the festivities last season due to an injury, accomplished the goal he and his teammates set out to do at the beginning of the year. A storybook ending to remove the bitter taste from 388 days ago.