Clark's pass, Diakite's shot, Virginia's perseverance: The 'Hoos are headed to the Final Four
It's hard for me to wrap my head around what just happened. First, there's a lot to digest from that amazing game. No matter who was playing in it, that was an all-time classic and the most exciting game of the tournament thus far. Period.
It's also difficult to comprehend a dream coming true, so scream it into being with me: The Virginia Cavaliers are going to the Final Four!
For the first time since 1984 and the third time in school history, the Wahoos will take part in college basketball's premiere event after an 80-75 overtime win over No. 3-seeded Purdue on Saturday in the South region championship in Louisville.
In a game chock-full of crazy moments and plays -- and I'm sure I can't cover everything in this space -- the Final Four-trip-saving signature moment came from the team's two unlikely heroes, both of whom have seriously stepped it up in the Big Dance: true freshman Kihei Clark and redshirt junior Mamadi Diakite.
After Ryan Cline missed a free throw that would've given Purdue a 71-67 lead with 16.7 seconds left in regulation, Ty Jerome was fouled intentionally with 5.9 seconds on the clock so that Virginia would be unable to get off a tying 3. Jerome calmly sunk the first one and then missed the second off the front of the rim.
The next thing that happened can only be described as mass hysteria and a sequence of events that barely make sense to me. I mean, I've watched the replay over and over, and it is still totally bonkers.
Mamadi Diakite did a great job of swatting the rebound back to the backcourt, where Clark and Kyle Guy gave chase. The little man with a big heart showed tremendous awareness, grabbing the ball with 3.6 seconds remaining but beyond the half-court line. I'm not sure what possessed Clark to not toss the ball to Guy, who was open and hot in the second half, but he didn't, and he even turned his direction first. He also didn't pass to Jerome. Both UVa stars were begging for the ball. Instead, the diminuitive Californian rifled a laser-beam pass to Diakite in the paint, and the big man lofted a high-arcing shot up over the outstretched arm of 7-foot-3 Purdue center Matt Haarms to send the game to overtime and the Virginia bench and fans into a frenzy. Clark passed the ball with 1.7 seconds remaining, Diakite caught it with 0.7 left and then let it go with about 0.3 showing.
Even Diakite was left speechless at what had transpired.
"I don't know [what happened on the shot]," he said as Jerome and Guy giggled seated next to him in the postgame news conference. "I took it, and it went in. I was happy and ready for the next five minutes. I don't know how to talk about it. It was just unbelievable."
Clark finished with two points -- the final two free throws in overtime. But he came up with five assists (no turnovers), one of them being one of the biggest assists in Virginia basketball history, and Diakite made one of the biggest shots in Virginia basketball history.
Did Jerome miss the second shot on purpose, setting chaos in motion?
"I don't know, there was so much going through my mind," Jerome said. "I didn't really miss it on purpose. I short-armed it, though. Mamadi did a great job tipping it, and Kihei made the play of the century by finding Mamadi, and Mamadi being ready to shoot. Yeah, let me add ... [Clark] looked Kyle off first, then looked me off, then he got it to Mamadi over here, and he made a great play.
"I wasn't thinking, I was just screaming for the ball," he added about the frantic final moments of regulation. "I was just screaming at Kihei, and I said a lot of words, and I was clapping my hands really fast."
Seriously, with 2.4 seconds left in regulation, Virginia was down two, the ball was in the hands of a freshman 65 feet from the basket, Guy was screaming for the ball and didn’t get it, and somehow Virginia won. pic.twitter.com/CDmVzWz7a3— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 31, 2019
The UVa and Purdue contingents, along with a captive TV audience, were left blown away by the proceedings ... and yet, there was still overtime to go.
Virginia was able to collect itself after the madness, outscoring Purdue 10-5 in the extra session. The go-ahead bucket came from De'Andre Hunter on a driving shot in the lane off the backboard over Grady Eifert with 26.8 seconds left to make the score 76-75. Down on the other end, Wahoos fans had to hold their collective breath for one more Carsen Edwards 3, but this one clanged off the rim, and Guy came up with a huge rebound. After he made two free throws, Purdue had one more chance with 5.7 seconds left down three, but Edwards' pass went off Cline's hands and out-of-bounds.
Guy, who started the game like many others in this tournament -- ice-cold from beyond the arc -- heated up in the second half -- ironically, after tweaking his ankle -- by sinking 5 of his 12 3-point attempts to lead Virginia with 25 points and, just as impressively, 10 rebounds. I remember at least one really key rebound and putback by Guy in the second half, and I already mentioned the ginormous one on defense. But obviously, without Guy's shooting, Purdue is the team advancing to Minneapolis.
"I don't really believe in slumps, and I always feel in rhythm when my guys are finding me," Guy said of his second-half performance.
Congratulations to @UVAMensHoops So well deserved. Amazing game. Remained poised , never flinched. Just kept playing— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) March 31, 2019
And even with Guy's explosion, it was almost not enough, with Edwards going off for an insane 42 points on 14-of-25 shooting (10 of 19 on 3s). Jerome was right there with Guy, and had to be for this to end in victory for Virginia, with 24 points on 7-of-18 shooting (4 of 10 from distance) plus seven assists and just one turnover (Virginia had just six). Diakite finished with 14 points, seven boards, four blocks, and the shot heard 'round the 'Hoo world. For the tournament, Diakite is averaging 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.25 blocks.
"That was the best performance I've ever seen. That was the best performance I've ever played against," Jerome said of Edwards' brilliance. "Kihei and 'Dre are both great on-ball defenders, and he just hit everything. ... Unbelieveable. I told him after the game that he's a helluva player."
A quiet Hunter rounded out Virginia's double-digit scorers with 10 points, but four of those were in overtime when he -- finally! -- took his defender to the basket. Hunter also had five rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Hunter is not only a likely NBA draft lottery pick, but a probable top-10 selection, maybe even top-five. It was so good to see him assert himself in overtime. The confident, slashing, get-out-of-my-way version of Hunter must continue to show up as UVa seeks two more wins.
Find someone happier than Virginia coach Tony Bennett 😆— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 31, 2019
📷: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images pic.twitter.com/IqL9tG1gHV
Jack Salt was UVa's only bench scorer, but he had five significant points (2 of 3 from the field), and he made 1 of 2 free throws. I remember thinking when he got to the line, "Please just make one at least," and the Big Kiwi delivered. Every point mattered. Virginia was great at the line, going 17 of 20.
Virginia was great mentally, too. Big shot after big shot went down for Edwards.
"Keep bothering his shots. Keep moving him on offense," Tony Bennett said of the team's strategy to try to contain Edwards. "See if we can wear him out. Screen him, move him, run him. It's going to happen sooner or later. He did not get tired, and he kept making the shots. And when he mde the banked shot [to go up 69-67 with 1:10 remaining in regulation], I was like, 'My Lord.'"
It would've been easy to succumb to the history Edwards was making. But the Cavaliers were there to make their own history.
"We made bad history last year," Guy said. "We're making good history this year."
The junior from Indiana had to take a moment at midcourt after the game to compose himself, much like he did after last season's historic loss, except under completely different circumstances.
"I was definitely flashing back to when I was on my knees last year," Guy said. "And I did it again. I was just overflowing with joy. I'm so happy for my teammates, my coaches and myself to be able to break through in the way that we did this year. Not only did we silence [coach's] critics, we silenced our own."
Y’all been spending a whole year making jokes and trying to rope us into it, but there’s only one No.1 seed in the final four pic.twitter.com/mxkxYlhgTZ— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 31, 2019
Purdue led by 10 in the first half, but UVa rallied. Then Purdue overcame two eight-point holes in the second half to lead UVa late. But Virginia kept coming, kept grinding, kept believing. If there's anything the KFC Yum! Center has taught us the past two seasons, it is this: The game is not over until the clock hits triple zeroes, and until that moment, you need to be fighting for everything you can. And that's exactly what the 'Hoos did. A year after an embarrassing all-time loss, the players were so richly rewarded for their hard work, perseverance, and ability to write a new chapter for this team, and for the entire Virginia basketball program.
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Articles on This Game
- I Will Be Ok by , posted on April 8, 2019, in Blog. Has tags (n) UMBC (March 16, 2018), (n) Texas Tech (April 8, 2019), (n) Auburn (April 6, 2019), (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019), (n) Oregon (March 28, 2019), (n) Oklahoma (March 24, 2019), (n) Gardner-Webb (March 22, 2019), NCAA Tournament
- Episode 17 Audiocast: Here At Last, Here We Are by , posted on April 8, 2019, in Blog. Has tags NCAA Tournament, Kyle Guy, (n) Texas Tech (April 8, 2019), (n) Auburn (April 6, 2019), (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019)
- Episode 16 Audiocast: Final Four Wahoowa by , posted on April 5, 2019, in Blog. Has tags Michigan St., NCAA Tournament, (n) Auburn (April 6, 2019), (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019)
- Episode 15 Audiocast: Elite Eight Instant Reaction by , posted on April 5, 2019, in Blog. Has tags (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019)
- Episode 14 Audiocast: Regionals by , posted on April 5, 2019, in Blog. Has tags (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019), (n) Oregon (March 28, 2019)
- Basketball Grandeur by , posted on April 4, 2019, in Team. Has tags (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019)
- Thinking deeply about the tying shot, UMBC fuel, and more thoughts from Virginia's victory by , posted on April 1, 2019, in Team. Has tags NCAA Tournament, Mamadi Diakite, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Kihei Clark, (n) Purdue (March 30, 2019)