Virginia's in the Final Four!
To celebrate this glorious achievement, I've gathered the Hoos Place staff to talk all things UVa and my virtual living room is groaning as I'm joined by Seattle Hoo, StLouHoo, Karl Hess, Robert, MaizeandBlueWahoo, and HooAmp.
Val: Before we get started talking about UVa, let's take a moment to commemorate Carsen Edwards' tourney. Put it in perspective: how great was it?
Val: I didn’t see a minute of Steph Curry’s NCAA run, but I saw most of Glen Rice’s tournament for Michigan and I saw all of Randolph Childress’ ACC tourney, and Edwards’ performance ranks alongside any of these. Purdue played 170 minutes in their four games and Edwards sat out an entire minute, and yet he was still blowing by Clark when he needed too. He also played like a point guard: I felt that most times he came down he was looking for his teammates and that his particular brand of hero ball on that day was due to our defense shutting down Cline and others. I’m sure he wanted to take the last shot, but judging from his post-game presser, he didn’t fault the decision for the play to devolve to Cline. Just his errant pass. He was a point guard to the end.
MaizeandBlue: I'm not great at racking and stacking performances like that. I have this bias in favor of historical events. Those events stood the test of time and therefore must be great, and the haze of history makes everything feel more epic as time passes; what Edwards did hasn't had the chance to do that yet. I will say, if it doesn't go down in history as an all-timer, then history has done a grave injustice. It was great enough that I think it's a shame it turned out not to be Final Four-worthy even though my own team would've had to lose a crusher for that to happen. Edwards didn't just knock down threes - you had to watch it to appreciate it because he was hitting nothing-but-net shots from across the river no matter who was guarding him.
StLou: Laettner's perfect night will always be the gold standard of a single game performance in the NCAA Tournament. Randolph Childress in the 1995 ACC Tournament is the gold standard for a player's individual tournament run. This is right there with them. If I'm going to give Carsen the nod for anything, it's because Laettner had Grant Hill and Childress had Tim Duncan, while Carsen had... Matt Haarms? Did Steph Curry have to play a defense the calibre of UVA's to put up his crazy numbers? Did Kemba Walker? It was Herculean, and he did it over 4 games which included an incredible win over Tennessee that not enough people are talking about right now. I'm sure there have been other dominant NCAAT runs that eclipse Edwards that I just can't recall at the moment, but he deserves to be talked about for years to come.
Since we were on the receiving end, my reactions throughout the game progressed something like: I'm impressed and probably underestimated this guy, okay you can miss now, rolling my eyes in annoyance, frustration, and then cringing in pain every time Edwards began his shooting motion. It's a testament to our mental toughness that we survived his onslaught.
Robert: I agree wholeheartedly with Seattle Hoo, who tweeted he was glad they ignored the tradition of choosing the player from the winning team in determining the South Region’s Most Outstanding Player. No one deserved it more than Carsen Edwards. I tried to remember another college game where a player took over like he did against Virginia, and I just couldn’t. I’m sure they’re out there, but Edwards’ performance will always stick with me. It’s so rare to see a player catch fire like that in college basketball, and it was truly enjoyable, too. The moment he had with Mamadi Diakite after the miraculous buzzer beater where they both laughed just displayed everything that was great about our game, college basketball in general, and Edwards' performance, as well. A tip of the hat to Carsen Edwards.
Seattle: At this point I think the greatness of his performance has been adequately chronicled by many people (in fact, I think I've already read or seen everything there is to say about the Elite Eight and the Final Four and am just piling on more words). It was amazing and historic and it was the perfect foil for UVA's story. I think it's been shown to be top three if not top performance by an individual in this tournament.
And yet, he missed shots down the stretch, with a banked three and a driving floater being his only baskets in the last 8 minutes of the game. In the overtime and the last three minutes, he had 3 turnovers and missed three of his five shots. He missed his last two threes. When it came down to it, he validated the principle that one man cannot beat a team, and validated the strategy to not focus on stopping him, but to focus on shutting out everyone else, and forcing him to try and win it on his own.
HooAmp: I am no junkie of the history of college basketball, but it has to be one of the best tournament performances ever, with the caveat being that his team lost in his best game. So part of me wonders if his heroics did take some of his teammates out of the game since no one else scored in double figures, but perhaps it was like Val said and UVa was just doing a good job of stopping everyone else.
Edwards came into the UVa game averaging 32 points and then bested than number by scoring 42 against us. I'm surprised he only went 10 of 19 from beyond the arc. It felt like 16 out of 19. I just started to assume his shots were going to go in, including the late one in OT when Kyle Guy got the rebound, and we went on to seal the victory.
Karl Hess: The best compliment I can give Edwards is that if the opponent was anyone else, it probably would have been my all time favorite tourney performance (non Wahoo category). I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Cline's shooting exhibition to close out the game against Tennessee but what Edwards did to us was next level stuff.
Val: Who has been the most valuable Hoo thus far, and which tournament win was the best?
Seattle: MVP is an award I hate, a concept I don't like and an exercise in which I don't want to engage. Every player is important. It's not just coachspeak, it's something I believe. Those scout teamers who never get to play are extremely valuable, and the better they do their job the better the team. When Tony Bennett let everyone who did anything for the team cut down a piece of net in the JPJ cutting, it was long and tedious but it was just and showed the measure of the man as a leader. We're all MVPs. Every one of us Hoos from Our President to The President to little Jojo McDodd down there in Hooville contributes and has intrinsic value to the community. Bennett's strength is that he recognizes that and he manages to elevate everybody.
Every player who hit the floor made some kind of key play. I guess if I am going to single one player out for something, I will point at Jack Salt. The guy was a starter for almost all of the last three years. Then, in the NCAA Tournament, he not only loses his starting spot but his minutes dwindle to nothing. Ten minutes total in the first three games. This is coming off an ACC Tournament where he averaged 13 ppg, missed only one shot from the floor and shot 75% from the free throw line. After clearing the obstacles for this team through the struggle to get there, he's left behind by the side of the road?
Then all he does is come off the bench in the biggest game of his life, the biggest game for this program in years, and kick ass. It could be argued that he made the difference in the game. His five points were all vital, his 8 rebounds helped the Hoos control the boards, and he even had 2 steals, coming up with crucial plays against Carsen Edwards of all people. He was Ready When Called Upon.
As for best win, I like all four of them. The first one had the most pressure. The last one was against the best opponent and will be remembered for decades as one of the best games in the history of this tournament. The second was a workmanlike dismantling of a pretty good team and got the team out of the danger zone of humiliating failure to advance. People would scoff if we lost in the Sweet Sixteen, but when the second round shook out all the Cinderellas it became obvious that some really good teams were going to lose. The Oregon win perhaps was the best example of surviving a noxious environment and emerging victorious. That defense they play with that length and quickness they have was confounding, and they had players difficult for us to stop on the other end. They even had to overcome an absurd tipoff time that arguably gave their Best Coast opponent a physical advantage. For the Ducks, it was 7:30 PM. I wanted to think it didn't work in Oregon's advantage, but there I was at the end of the game two hours past my bedtime wide awake and energetic, so maybe it did matter. To my body it was still only 10:00 when the game ended.
And through it all, through all the noise and the fury, the atmospheres and environments, this team just plays. They are all about the game and each other and that's what they play for. They don't care about The Externals and they shut them out when it's time to prepare and play, and it allows them to rise to the moment.
But, damn, that Purdue game is just the obvious answer because it was the best game against the best opponent and we had to play very well and achieve greatness in order to win, and, mostly, BECAUSE I WAS THERE! I risked a lot and put myself on the line for a dream AND IT PAID OFF. I was there to watch and feel 35 years of frustration come to an end. I was there to witness the Triumph of the finest man I know, a man who in a good world would be doing something far more important than coach a basketball team (although perhaps in a good world coaching a basketball team would be far more important than it is in this one). Seeing that man stand on that ladder with a net in his hand and issue His Barbarian Yawp for the world to hear was the moment that made it all worth it.
MaizeandBlue: OK, we all agree the Purdue win was the bestest ever. Gardner-Webb is #2, because that was the one where the Hoos had the most on the line. And even though it was in the first round, it was under a much brighter spotlight than either of the next two games. Against Gardner-Webb, they showed they could win even when at their most vulnerable.
MVP? Coming to you from across the pond, it's Mamadi Diakite. The numbers tell part of the story. He's shooting over 68% in this tourney. He's averaging nine boards. He blocked four shots against Purdue, and five more against OU and UO combined. And he's done all this while committing only six fouls in 132 minutes. He went the equivalent of almost three full 40 minute games without fouling out - that is, he didn't commit his fifth foul of the tourney until the 14:24 mark of the second half against Purdue. He's fouling at a rate of 1.8 per 40, a truly insane number.
The numbers, as always, only tell part of the story. Opposing defenses have keyed very, very hard on Guy, Jerome, and Hunter, knowing that any one of them could go off at any minute and turn the game into a blowout. They've kept on shooting, but the shots have been contested. It's no accident that UVA murdered Purdue on the offensive glass: Purdue was contesting hard, leaving the paint open for Diakite (and Salt) to get to work. So even when he couldn't grab a board, he'd get the tip out, as we all saw in glorious fashion. Diakite is making opponents pay the price for their focus on stopping our perimeter players.
StLou: MVP has to be Mamadi, right? Even leaving out the Mamadi Miracle where he had both the tip-out and the shot make, he's been so consistent this postseason. He's averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds a contest (3 offensive, 6 defensive), shooting an absurd 65% (69% if you leave out his two anomalous 3-point attempts), and over 2 blocks a game. He averaged 20 mpg all year, but that's jumped to 33 mpg over the last 4, while committing only 6 fouls total. He's been essential on both ends of the floor, and while our guards have individually waxed and waned from game to game, Mamadi's been the rock throughout.
Robert: This one is tough, but my gut says Mamadi Diakite. He just continues to deliver in critical moments throughout the tournament. Ty Jerome would be my second choice, as he has been consistent and scored in double figures in all four games (so has De’Andre Hunter, although he scraped by with 10, 11, and 10 points against Oklahoma, Oregon, and Purdue, respectively). But let’s revel in the moment – Mamadi just hit the shot of a generation, for crying out loud! Mamadi seems like the right choice.
Val: I typically take the contrary position (just to be interesting) but there's no disputing that Mamadi has been the MVP for the team. I’ve been critical of the high hedge all season, especially since it seems to be a limiting factor in Huff’s playing time, but it was very effective against Purdue, and Diakite has simply stopped making the stupid fouls on the hedge that he did last year and even during the out-of-conference slate. I still get angry over one hedge against Miami last year when we stopped Chris Lykes 40 feet from the basket, and Diakite tried for the steal. The mindlessness that Diakite displayed has been a constant criticism. And Maize is correct: Diakite is not fouling. Which means he’s on the floor when Bennett wants him.
We’ve seen two years of maturation in Mamadi’s game in the past two months. It’s been special to watch.
As for best win…. In a win or go home scenario, your last one is always the best because if you don’t win, you’re going home. Purdue will be memorable because of Edwards’ performance, and because of The Play, but in the end, it was just another game. Gardner Webb matters more because of the freight we’ve been carrying since UMBC, but ultimately, it was just a 1 vs 16 game. No, I think the most important game for us was Oregon because that is a more relevant trap game. We all know we struggle against long, rangy, athletic teams – see Item #1, FSU in the ACC tournament – and we’ve had poor luck going against underseeded teams. Either of two Michigan State teams and a Syracuse team being Items #2 and #3. Oregon came in playing killer defense and they shut us down. We played better, but we’ve been the “better” team in the NCAAs before and not advanced to the second round.
StLou: I saw what you did there, Val, trying to stick out by choosing the Oregon game. Sorry, the best win has to be Purdue. I thought Oregon was the toughest matchup on paper, as their kind of combination of size and athleticism often provides a still challenge to UVA teams. And that we won that rock fight was impressive. But to break through to the Final Four in such an intense game, against such an incredible performance by Carsen Edwards, down 3 with under 7 seconds left, down 1 as the clock was under a minute in OT, to stay composed and close out the win spoke volumes about the maturity and capacity of this team.
Karl Hess: Gardner Webb was the best win. Things were shaky, to be generous, at the beginning. The Hoos were seemingly on the ropes and so was the program. Its credibility, the casual fans, all of it but the diehards were potentially jumping ship if things didn't get righted in a hurry. I was contemplating a life without college hoops as I'm not sure I could have continued watching the sport (my favorite) if disaster struck again. I've often rolled my eyes at some of the melodramatic reactions to UMBC but this was going to be my Waterloo. But the Hoos found their feet. Ty Jerome and the coaching staff kept everyone from panicking. This team needed to remember how to win in the NCAA Tournament. And it wasn't a sure thing as we all witnessed that Friday afternoon. But that win restored the team's confidence and swagger. The rest is history.
Diakite is the MVP of this run for a few reasons. First, the sheer surprise of it has only made it that much more enjoyable. Second, he's proven to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams on both sides of the court. He's flashed this potential every so often but now that it's come together there are few answers available to counter Mamadi's talents within our systems. And finally, Mamadi's emergence this March has allowed the Hoos to overcome off nights by other key members of the team. Usually we could count on Dre to bail the team out when Guy, Jerome, or Guy and Jerome had a bad night. But when both Guy and Dre have scuffled along the way someone had to give Jerome (and Kihei as it turns out) some help. Enter Mamadi. It's been a delight.
HooAmp: So, we're all agreed it's Diakite, because he is averaging 13 points, 9 boards, and 2.25 blocks in the tournament. We all knew the Big Three would get theirs at certain points in the dance and they have. Jerome and Guy went off against Purdue. Hunter played well against G-W. But Diakite has been the key fourth pieces that has helped UVa advance to its first Final Four in 35 years. Diakite played a major role in averting disaster against G-W, and we all know his part in The Play.
BUT.... We should also recognize Kihei Clark in this space, because he made perhaps one of the best passes in NCAA basketball history, given the gravitas of the situation, and he was also very important in knocking down three 3s vs. Oregon. His reaction after making the all-time pass to Diakite (barely celebrated) and his staredown after making a 3 of the Oregon assistant who told him to shoot the ball show the kid is a cold-blooded assassin and we are lucky to have someone with his demeanor.
Best win is Purdue, but you can make an argument for G-W being most important because of what a loss would've meant.
StLou: So, let me ask: Of all the narratives surrounding this team and this run, what's your favorite and why?
HooAmp: Definitely killing the UMBC ghost. As noted here, the program was on the precipice of a loss that could've set it back years. But the players cleared their heads in time and got down to business, beat G-W and overcame themselves by destroying the No. 16 seed after getting down 14. Since then, they've continued to not get to up or down in the journey, grinding out a couple wins when needed and then turning up the offense against Purdue and winning an all-time classic, which was a cool story in its own right.
It's already a really awesome story for UVa to have gotten to the first Final Four of the Tony Bennett era the year after what happened, and it can turn into one of the best sports stories ever, period, if Saturday and Monday go well.
StLou: I'm going to go with Tony joining the next tier of great coaches. Up until this week he'd been lumped in with "good coaches to not make a Final Four," where he swam with such names as Ed Cooley, Sean Miller, Chris Mack, Mike White, Buzz Williams (you have to consider his Marquette years too, where he made an Elite 8), and *shudder* Mark Turgeon. Now Tony has something those guys don't. He's moved into the "Great Coaches to Break Through to the Final Four" tier, guys without championships but still have the coveted appearance to brag about, such as Lon Kruger, Frank Martin, Dana Altman, Shaka Smart, Rick Barnes, Larranaga (those three at former schools admittedly), John Beilein, and Mark Few, which is a pretty esteemed group of peers. Now when Tony walks into a gym to recruit, he's doing so as a member of a very elite club, one that only a dozen or so coaches can claim to be in, and only a select few can best.
Val: Bennett can’t get to the Final Four.
This is a silly narrative. The Final Four is really just marketing. Whoever coined the terms Final Four and Sweet 16 ought to be getting his weight in gold from the NCAA every year, because it’s genius. But I cannot believe schools hang Final Four banners from the rafters. All it says to me is: “Hey, we were in a select group of teams that lost their final game.” It really just part of the participation-trophy-for-all mentality. Loyola made it to the Final Four last year. It was a sweet ride for them, but ultimately, they only won four games. Would anyone here really want to trade last year’s season for Loyola’s.
Seriously, would anyone?
Seattle: UMBC! UMBC! UMBC! UMBC! All the rest of the narratives are fantastic but the recovery from abject failure to the Game's Biggest Stage has to be the one that encapsulates everything for me. Tony took failure and turned it into success. UMBC inspired the underdogs, and Tony Bennett inspired all of us. His players inspired all of us. They say nobody knows what they went through, but we can have a pretty good idea because we went through some serious shit, too, and it doesn't take too much imagination to multiply that and paint the context around it and recognize the weight they bore, the pressure they withstood, the meanness they endured. Led by their coach, they taught all of us, inspired all of us, and made the world a little bit better place.
MaizeandBlue: Redemption from last year. Look, this feels like talking about a perfect game after the sixth inning. To make this storyline really take flight, there are two more games worth of work to be done.
Here's the thing. If the Hoos crash out next weekend, I'll be bummed, maybe even a lot more disappointed than I think I'll be now. But I'll get over it and cherish the rest of the storylines like crazy. Maybe even buy the t-shirt.
I don't want great storylines, though. Everyone who makes a Final Four has those. Everyone. I'm glad we have our own, but now I don't just want stories, I want the greatest story ever told. In a tournament whose history just explodes with stories, that's a high bar to set. A team that suffers the worst loss in tourney history and then wins it all the next year clears that bar with ease. Everything else is just a chapter in that book.
Robert: My favorite is Kyle Guy’s story. No one owned the UMBC loss quite like he did, and to see him erupt for 21 points in the second half against Purdue was gratifying. After such a frustrating first few games, too – he deserved that performance. Hunter and Jerome might be the near-term NBA guys on this roster, but Guy is the soul of the team. It just felt right for Guy to have his big game of the tournament when it mattered most.
A consolation prize goes to the tweet (I can’t remember from who) that said since Mamadi Diakite made a wild, buzzer-beater shot, we can now consider Tony a good coach. The overarching narrative of relief for Tony Bennett and this program is monumental. It was embodied by the players’ happiness, the tales of the Wahoos who came before them, and perhaps most of all by Tony and Dick Bennett’s relationship. Maybe I’m talking myself into Tony’s redemption as my favorite storyline now. They’re all really, really good.
Val: MaizeandBlue just re-posted an entire column from 5 years ago. Anyone got any predictions they made this season they want to crow about now?
StLou: I don't know about a prediction, but I want to go back to a "putting it in perspective" article I wrote last year before the UMBC loss: "Looking Back Before Looking Forward". At the time I had no idea it would be but a premature eulogy on the season with a premature end just a couple days away. But now, with the Final Four achieved, I think it's important to review for another reason entirely. Teams occasionally make fluke Final Four runs. South Carolina a couple years ago. Cinderellas like George Mason or Loyola-Chicago. Paul Hewitt's GT team in '04. And to be sure there's something there to brag about; hang the banner and be proud. But it's important to realize that this is just the climax of an incredible run of on- and off-the-court success, with six ACC title banners (4 regular season, 2 tournament), coach of year awards, a host of All-America and All-ACC players, numerous low-ranked recruits turning into NBA players, and nearly all of them being top notch student athletes that embody the University's ideals through and through. We're not celebrating a Final Four right now, we're celebrating the most recent achievement of an all-around incredible program.
Robert: Not so much predictions, but this was a Final Four or bust season for me. The opportunity was too obvious to be completely satisfied with any other result. For the players, Tony Bennett, and even us as fans, a Final Four berth is monumental. It was never going to be easy, but that is what this team was built to do.
Val: I don’t typically do predictions, just post-mortems, but I did write in our first Roundtable that, “It is a matter of when, not if, Kihei Clark becomes your favorite Wahoo ever.” I thought that time was going to come next year when, presumably, the Big Three all leave for the NBA. That time may be now.
HooAmp: I generally try to short my favorite teams a little bit in preseason predictions, so that I won't be disappointed, but I went all in on this squad, predicting a 26-4 (14-4 ACC) regular season on my blog. And they were still better than that. I didn't really make a prediction for NCAA tournament success, but obviously the team probably has surpassed anything I would've imagined. I definitely held the thought at the beginning of the season, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool to go to the Final Four the year after UMBC?" but I don't know if, as an often disappointed Wahoo, I really thought it could be come reality.
Seattle: We still have a chance to make my first Bold Prediction about UVA come true: cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. But that's not it for me. I think that when I settled on the theme of Resilience for the Midnight Madness Hype Video this year, and Bouncing Back for our Season Preview Publication, I captured the essence of the season, and the biggest strength of these guys. The theme played out over and over and over again, right up to this last game, the last play of regulation, and now beyond.
While not really a prediction, I find myself coming back now to something I said to myself and friends a few times during the regular season and the ACC Tournament: Let's save our big game winning mojo for when it really counts. Rather than have the amazing comeback, the last second stunner, the overcome giant happen in the regular season - or even the ACC Tournament - let's THIS year have it happen in the NCAA Tournament, where it can really DO something for us. So losing twice to Duke, falling short in the ACC Tournament, those things didn't bother me at all. I just didn't care about those things. They were just games. I'm glad we didn't have those dramatic or signature wins. It seems like in previous years we used up our allotment of luck and excellence in the regular season where only the faithful are watching. For once, I wanted to have it in the Big Dance, where everyone was watching.
And in that same vein, I'mm glad we haven't really had a clean performance in this tournament, we haven't had a good shooting night, we haven't had all our stars play well in the same game. We've been grinding to wins. That's ok. Let's grind our way to the Final Game, and then unleash that complete performance. Guy, Hunter and Jerome still have their best performance ahead of them.
Let's talk about The Play. If John Elway has The Drive, we've now got The Play in UVa lore. What were you thinking as you watched it unfold? Did you do or say anything funny?
Val: This play was the stuff of legends, and should we go on to win it all, this will replace Christian Laettner’s winner vs Kentucky in NCAA highlight reel.
What makes this play so great was not the buzzer-beaterness of it – though Diakite got the ball off as quickly as he had too – but’s it that two players combined for the greatness. My vote for the greatest World Cup goal of all time is Dennis Bergkamp’s (Holland) winner vs Argentina in 1998. It’s in the last minute of regulation, both teams have battled 93+ degree temps, everyone is exhausted, and Bergkamp scores off a signature goal: a brilliant turn on the ball and the shot. But what makes it so very special is teammate Frank de Boer’s pinpoint 60 yard bomb to Bergkamp’s feet. That goal took two brilliant plays, just as Clark to Diakite took two brilliant plays.
Play this with the sound on for the greatest "call" in soccer:
Robert: It all just happened so fast. I was mentally prepared for another couple minutes of timeouts, inbounds, fouls, free throws – rinse and repeat. So when the missed shot was tipped past half court, my heart started pounding and I just stood in shock, praying someone would get a shot off. It happened too quick for any remotely sensible thought about who, how, or when. It happened in a flash. I still can’t believe it
StLou: I'd resigned myself to the loss. I was grumbling when they fouled Ty. Maybe we'd make both, foul, they'd make some FTs at the other end, and we'd get up a half-court heave before watching the Boilermakers celebrate. As Kihei chased down the loose ball I saw no way he'd have time to get off a good shot or find a teammate in good scoring position. I was shocked. Just without words. We could rerun that scenario 100 times and I'm not sure we'd convert it more than 2 or 3 times. We got spoiled with shots like Darius Thompson's game winner at Wake and Hunter's at Louisville, comebacks that had no business occurring but did anyways. And yet this seemed the most improbable of all. Kihei Clark's pass will go down as part of both UVA legend and the NCAA Tournament's, especially if UVA wins 2 more games next weekend, it will go down with '92's Hill-to-Laettner pass.
MaizeandBlue: Disbelief. "I can't believe it." Of all the thoughts that popped into my head, that one just kept coming back. Once I realized that did actually happen, I came back to earth with, "I cannot take another five minutes of this." I mean, you have no choice, but my goodness, it doesn't get more stressful. The only equivalent is Game 7 of a Stanley Cup series.
Note that there's no joy or happiness, not yet. That comes only when the win is secured. Too much UVA in me to actually be happy about something that hasn't happened yet. And it's not secured until Kihei sinks the free throw to make it a four point lead.
Seattle: When the referee signaled good basket, I folded like a jacknife and screamed into the floor, LIFE! WE HAVE LIFE! THERE'S LIFE! LIFE! For some strange reason I had no worry about the replay review. I just was at peace that the play would stand, that we would get to overtime. I felt good about winning, while recognizing that there was no guarantee. But the dream was alive. After having been so sure just minutes ago that in the end I had invested everything I had invested for just another Virginia Sports Disappointment, that dream of fulfillment was still alive.
There is not and will never be another UVA sporting moment that will come close. I WAS THERE. I watched it unfold. I followed the arc of Clark's pass and saw where it would land, saw that it had a chance. My belief in that team had been rewarded.
HooAmp: I don't really remember what I was thinking as Jerome was at the line, other than we had a chance at least. The Louisville game last year has made me not count out UVa or any other team for that matter until the clock shows triple zeroes. I also don't recall thinking anything as The Play unfolded because it happened so quickly. After it happened, for a second, I thought we had won, because if you listen to the broadcast, the announcer did in fact say, "For the win....!" mistakenly, so I think I may have heard that subliminally. I began screaming and hugging and jumping up and down with my friend who I was watching the game with and then I realized there was still OT to go, but I didn't have this sense of dread. I still remember being pretty happy. Maybe that was a sign of what was to come. I also just kinda flopped down on the floor both at the end of regulation and the end of OT. Utterly speechless, no more energy to expend, but so happy.
Karl Hess: I just want to follow up, where does it fit on your personal list of greatest UVa sporting moments?
Robert: This has to be the best, and I really don’t think I’m being a prisoner of the moment. My UVa fandom started in the early 2000s, primarily through football. Aside from a few fun wins in football (a couple Miami games, FSU in 2011, etc.), there hasn’t been anything near this magnitude of late. I saw us win the men’s lacrosse national championship in 2011, and I covered the 2014 men’s soccer national championship for the Cavalier Daily, but those non-revenue sports just don’t compare at this stage when half of America is watching. The closest second would have to be the 2014 Syracuse men’s basketball game to lock up the ACC regular season crown, but that regular season run happened so fast. This Final Four run was years of agony, heartbreak, and joy in the making. The anticipation was the monkey on every fan’s shoulders. This has to be the best.
Val: While I’m not a football guy, the top two spots have been football. That first Peach Bowl in 1984 (where we defeated Purdue, no less) in just the third year of George Welsh’s tenure and when we were the first ACC team to beat Florida State in ACC play. But this tops both of those moments. And it’s not even close.
Karl Hess: As for me, I'm 41. I've been a UVA fan for as long as I've liked any sports team. The 84 Peach Bowl is my first Wahoo memory. In that context, here are my top 3 UVA sports moments.
1. 2019 Final Four (and beyond) - besides validating the program to the masses (which we didn't need but it will be nice to make a portion of the knucklehead contingent of hoops fans STFU finally) the way it happened was epic. I'm still unable to put it into the larger March Madness context but I've been watching the tournament for a long ass time. This game was one of the best I've seen in March and the epic ending shot it into the stratosphere. Unless you played on or coached the 2015 CWS championship team, you're lying if this isn't your top moment.
2. 2014 ACC Double Championship - Bennett's first team to break through. People were ready to abandon the bandwagon after the Tennessee game. Then Joe's red truck happened and the rest is history. The Cuse game at JPJ on senior night to win the regular season title in convincing fashion. The Thomas Rogers three to close out that night. The run through the ACC Tournament that culminated in a win over Duke (and the Coach K marker toss...hahahaha). This season really began the Peak Tony era and UVA basketball suddenly became a lot of fun. For personal reasons, this team and season meant a ton to me.
3. 2015 CWS Championship - Growing up as a kid, I always enjoyed watching the CWS final on CBS back when it aired there. There were often exotic teams like Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, and Wichita State competing. I became a fan of college baseball and it gave me hope that one day maybe UVA would be there. Then I found out UVA was terrible at baseball. The O'Connor years were a steady yet meteoric to national relevance and then national title contender. The Hoos were by far the best team in 2014 but the best team doesn't always win. The 2015 team made the regionals by the skin of their teeth. My son was then born right before the regionals began. Staying up late taking care of and watching him gave me excuse and need to stay up to watch the games from Lake Elsinore including the epic late inning game against USC that never seemed like it would end. I can remember holding him while he was sleeping as Ernie Clement delivered the walk off hit to beat Maryland in the Super Regional that sent the Hoos back to Omaha. And then it seemed as if Brandon Waddell and Josh Sborz tagged team every game (whether they actually did nor not) until the Hoos made the final series in a rematch with Vandy. After losing game one and seemingly out of pitchers, Adam Haseley shocked the world by dominating the Commodores in game two which set up a game three for the UVA record books. There's no need to recap game three as any UVA baseball fan knows it inside and out. But this run will always stick with me because of the connection to my son's birth and the first UVA national title in one of the big three sports.
HooAmp: I am 31, so I was not around for the football or basketball success of the 80s and was too young to appreciate much of the 90s. When I rank games I've attended, the 2014 Syracuse basketball game is always first, because that was the most fun season of a UVa sport I've been a part of, but now this one is trying to top that. The out-of-the-blue nature made that year so awesome, and then it was capped off with the perfect win at home over the Orange.
Expanding into games I haven't attended, such as UVa-Purdue, yes, that one has to be first. I loved the baseball run in 2015 (Chris Taylor's play against Irvine in 2011 also rates highly, because I remember where I was watching that) but football and men's basketball are my favorite sports, and a Final Four appearance after I hadn't seen one before is at the top, and because of the way the win happened that got us there, with so much drama.
Other favorites are UVa-FSU 2005 and 2011 (road win we "won" three times), UVa-Duke 2007 (I was a first-year and right behind the Duke bench), 2014 of course for the ACC tourney title, and last season since I hadn't really witnessed a victory at Duke. The UVa-Pitt game from 2014 was cool, too, because it got us into the rankings and because of Malcolm's shot.
StLou: My UVA fandom goes back to the early 90s, when as a teenager I started to pay more attention to college sports (vice the pros) and adopted the nearby Hoos as my team of choice, a few years prior to starting there as a student. So my working knowledge of great UVA moments goes back to that time period; please don't judge me if you can remember better moments from the Ralph or Wally Walker eras. Before this weekend, my Mount Rushmore of UVA sports moments was probably the 95 FSU Goal Line Stand, the CWS title, and the dual 2014 hoops moments of beating Syracuse and then Duke for the two ACC titles. Beating Kansas in '95 and the 4-straight soccer titles fall to the second tier. As of right now, cutting down the nets to go to the Final Four is right there with the first tier. I need to see how this coming weekend goes to give it enough context to see if it's merely amongst the top tier or tops them all.
MaizeandBlue: My top two UVA sports moments are HooAmp's aforementioned Chris Taylor's bases-loaded single and Thomas Rogers's three. (And no, I shouldn't have to provide context.) Those are two different types of moments, so they don't compare well. This play is right there with that hit from Taylor. From a sheer drama and improbability perspective, Taylor's hit is a little bigger. The sport and stage give an edge to the Dia-Kihei.
Val: Dia-Kihei. In a perfect world, Maize, you'd be earning royalties for the rest of your life for this perfect neologism. Let's watch it again, shall we:
And that's a wrap. Almost 9000 words, almost as long as a Bill Simmons' Mailbag. Only without the references to crappy TV shows and movies. Check in tomorrow for Part II of the Final Four Roundtable!