Late Monday night, the University of Virginia Cavaliers delivered one more late game rally and finally tossed away the bad memories of how its 2018 season ended.
With yet another clutch come-from-behind rally in the final seconds of regulation, Cavs fans can proudly yell a passionate “Wa-Hoo!” as the team won its first NCAA men’s basketball championship with a 85-77 overtime thriller over a valiant bunch of Red Raiders from Texas Tech.
UVa’s fans are just fine with either the nickname “Cavaliers” or “Wahoos”. According to one source, rival Washington and Lee baseball fans (circa 1890’s) called University of Virginia players “a bunch of rowdy Wahoos,” and used the “Wahoowa” yell as a form of derision.
With the win, Virginia erased the horrible taste of becoming the first and only #1 seeded team to lose to a 16th seed in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament. The loss to a Baltimore commuter school (UMBC) was a shock to the team and its always steady coach, Tony Bennett.
After last year’s early loss, he said, “I got a poster of Rocky on the steps and I told them: I just want a chance at the title fight one day.”
Last year’s embarrassing first round loss served as motivation for the entire 2018-2019 season and was a game-by-game reminder for the team to prepare hard and never underestimate any opponent this year.
Virginia’s overtime win over Texas Tech in Monday night’s finale was the Cavaliers’ third consecutive game in which the team trailed with 15 seconds or less remaining in regulation.
On Saturday against Auburn, it was guard Kyle Guy (the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player) who scored the team’s final six points during the final ten seconds of play.
On Monday night, forward De’Andre Hunter nailed a clutch three pointer from the corner to tie the game at 68 points apiece and send it to overtime. He scored a career high 27 points (with 22 of them coming in the second half and overtime) in leading Virginia’s rally to victory.
Harry Houdini would have been proud of the way this bunch escaped with victories!
After living with the humiliation of becoming the first and only #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed last season, this year’s team worked hard and received more than a fair share of fortunate bounces, officials’ calls, and clutch baskets.
After last year’s loss, it seemed like much of the college basketball universe was saying that Coach Bennett’s style of basketball wouldn’t be able to win a national championship in this generation of high-flying “one-and-done-to-the-NBA” athletes.
Who said defense can’t win basketball championships? Virginia finished as the #1 team in the country in scoring defense (by the way, runner-up Texas Tech was #3).
Offensively, Virginia’s game plan is (putting it nicely) quite deliberate. To win with a slower pace of play, UVa’s ability to take care of the basketball was proven by their #5 national ranking in the vital assists-to-turnover ratio statistic.
At halftime of the championship game Monday night, Virginia’s coach, Tony Bennett (no relation to the singer), stressed to the CBS sideline reporter that the game would be decided by who wins the most second half possessions.
He was quite prophetic. Each trip down the court between Virginia and Texas Tech was an epic 25-to-30 second battle of offense versus defense.
If you had tuned-in to the game hoping to see a few fast breaks and thunderous slam dunks, you were sadly disappointed.
Though both Virginia and Texas Tech have quite talented college basketball players, you probably won’t see too many of these young men in the NBA.
Even though the CBS commentators said that Virginia’s 6’ 7” sophomore De’Andre Hunter and Texas Tech’s 6’ 6” sophomore Jarrett Culver might be heading into the NBA draft after this season ended, none of this year’s Final Four teams (which also included Auburn and Michigan State) were teams which had been built to feature so-called “one-and-done” freshmen star players (such as Duke and Kentucky, for example).
After the game, Coach Bennett made a comment which I felt was quite appropriate in today’s “Win NOW!” college sports environment.
He said, “The players did this! The coaches get too much of the credit when we win and far too much of the blame when we lose!”
Tony Bennett’s players stayed in step with their coach all season on their way to hoisting the championship trophy after the overtime slugfest with Texas Tech ended Monday night.
Making one clutch play after another, this resilient bunch of Virginia Cavaliers kept their poise no matter how bleak it may have looked on the scoreboard and will now take home the school’s first men’s basketball championship.
As singer Tony Bennett might have crooned while Coach Tony Bennett watched along the sidelines, they did it “Just in Time”!