MINNEAPOLIS– Virginia’s redemption tour is complete. One year ago, the college basketball world was shocked when the No. 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers lost to 16th seeded UMBC. The first 16-seed upsetting a 1-seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. One year later, Coach Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers are cutting the nets in Minneapolis, securing their first National Championship in school history. Against the best defensive team in the country in Texas Tech, the Cavaliers offense was just stellar enough, surviving in overtime 85-77. Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and DeAndre Hunter, the trio that got Virginia to Minneapolis, have done it again, on the biggest stage in college basketball.
“These guys came to play in a title fight tonight,” said Coach Bennett post game. “I’m so thankful and proud.”
Virginia Coach Bennett Played Pivotal Role in Inspiring Team to Avenge Last Year’s Disappointment
Coach Bennett from a family, possessing a plethora of basketball experience. The knowledge he learned from his Father and Sister prepared him for dealing with the emotional disappointment of losing to a 16th seed last year.
The toughest part of losing for any athlete is having to attend the obligatory press conference. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome experienced that first hand after losing to UMBC. But Coach Bennett used it as a learning opportunity to strive to improve so that this experience would never happen again.
“I said, we’re going to get through this, but you guys need to be up there with me, and we need to go through this, and we need to go through next year together,” said Bennett. “We need each other. I knew it was going to be such an important time in our lives no matter how it played out.”
Virginia would have another successful regular season, going 34-3 and 16-2 in the ACC. Their defense was stout, ranked first in the country in opponent’s points per game (55.5). In the most competitive conference in the nation, which consisted of Duke’s Zion Williamson or North Carolina’s Coby White, Virginia’s offensive corps would finish sixth in the ACC in points per game (70.4) and first in three-point percentage (43.1 percent). It was clear that this team was riding momentum into the tournament, eager to climb the mountain to championship glory after suffering the depths of the disappointment last year.
“I know this year that there was a belief, as soon as that buzzer sounded last year, that we were going to do something special this year,” affirmed Kyle Guy.
Virginia’s Ultimate Trio Carry Team to Championship Glory
Virginia knew their matchup against the Texas Tech would be a physical battle. The Red Raiders had the best defensive efficiency in college basketball, at 84 points per 100 possessions. That’s 2.4 points per 100 better than second best Michigan and 4.5 better than third best Kansas State.
But in the first half, Virginia appeared to be the better team. The Texas Tech defense was having trouble guarding Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, who had 10 and 8 points respectively in the first half. Texas Tech was also struggling to shoot from the field, a measly 33.3 percent in the first half, thank
What kept the Red Raiders in the game was their bench, led by Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards, who had 13 points in the first half. While Texas Tech Head Coach Chris Beard made adjustments to put a man on Guy and Jerome, it then paved the way for the DeAndre Hunter second-half show. For the game, Hunter would put up 27 points and 9 rebounds, 17 of which would come in the second half.
Texas Tech would not give in; down eight points with less than five minutes to go, the Red Raiders roared back with a 10-0 run to take the lead, thanks to Matt Mooney, Davide Moretti, and Jarrett Culver. But it would be Virginia’s offense that would remain relentless. DeAndre Hunter, left unguarded, would get the game-tying three, sending the contest to sudden death overtime. Virginia’s offense continued to soar in the extra frame, outscoring Texas Tech 17-9, with points from Kyle Guy, DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Mamadi Diakite, and Braxton Key. For a team that was labeled as having an underperforming offense, they shined on the biggest stage.
“It’s unbelievable,” exclaimed Hunter. “Especially what happened last year and losing in the first round. We talked about this all season and it happened.”
Virginia’s Victory Tastes Sweeter After Overcoming Last Year’s Heartbreak
There were moments this NCAA tournament where Virginia could have given up. In the first round, against 16th seed Gardner-Webb, the Cavaliers were faced with echoes of history repeating itself. In the Elite Eight against Purdue, Virginia had their back against the wall as a result of Carsen Edwards. The National Semifinal against Auburn showed Virginia’s resiliency down the stretch, particularly Kyle Guy’s clutch ability to free throws.
But in all of those moments, Virginia conquered the adversity. No task seemed too daunting for this experienced team. Kyle Guy, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, remembers vividly of experiencing the heartbreak of last year. He did not want those emotions to be felt again.
“That’s a dark path, a dark place that I think a lot of us were in,” said Guy. “It was humiliation, an embarrassment for ourselves and our families and the program. To be able to redeem all that and get this program something that’s never happened before is all that I could ever want.”
For Coach Tony Bennett, with his parents watching in the crowd, it’s an affirmation that the journey was worth it. That the climb up the mountain of adversity could be conquered with talent, skill, and perseverance.
“We have a saying, ‘the most faithful win’ and these guys stayed so faithful,” says Bennett. “These young men deserve this championship. I’m so happy, go Hoos!”