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Their own Minneapolis Miracle? Somehow, 'Hoos survive Auburn's rally, advance to title game

Game Highlights

It was looking too easy.

It was looking more like any ol' Virginia basketball regular-season win. Not a Final Four nail-biter with a berth in the school's first championship game on the line.

Then the Cardiac Cavs happened.

Then fate happened.

Then another chapter in the story was written.

About as fitting a conclusion as any script writer could dream up, Kyle Guy went to the line with 0.6 seconds left for three free throws, with UVa down two to Auburn.

Guy, the poster boy for the ridicule, scorn, jokes, and criticism the Cavaliers endured after their embarrassing loss to UMBC, calmly sank every single shot with nary a hint of nervousness, and the Cavaliers slipped past Auburn by the thinnest of margins -- avoiding a pretty bad collapse in the process -- to win 63-62 in Minneapolis on Saturday night.

After making the first two to tie it up, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl called timeout. Guy didn't huddle with the rest of his teammates and coaches.

"I didn't want anything to do with my teammates or my coaches at that time," he said. "I just wanted to be in my own space."

Guy, who publicly battled anxiety following last season's upset, was the perfect player to face that situation. After staring down his inner demons and outside critics -- and literally a photo of himself slumped over at the end of last season's upset that he put up in his room -- you knew it had to be him at the line. The story wouldn't be right any other way. It makes you think that had UMBC not happened, the Cavaliers would not be playing in the title game. To get to the highest of highs, Guy, and Virginia, first needed to reach the lowest of lows.

After the game, Guy, despite looking like he barely broke a sweat in the final white-knuckle moments, said he was "terrified" at the line. Later on, he clarified his statement.

"Terrified was maybe the wrong word," Guy said. "I definitely was nervous. It was a good kind of nervous, the one that you get that little tingly feeling in your stomach. It's like you're a kid in the candy store. This is what I always dreamed of. To be able to do this for the program, my family, and obviously my brothers on that team, and the coaching staff, it means the world."

It was the second time in a span of a few seconds Guy came up large in the game's closing sequence. The junior from Indiana finished with 15 points, and six of them came with under 10 seconds remaining. It was not a classic shooting night for Guy. He went 2 for 6 from beyond the arc. But his second 3 of the game was significant, coming under immense pressure on the baseline, and it cut Auburn's lead to 61-60 with about seven seconds left.

On the other end of the floor, Jared Harper made one of two free throws. After some intentional fouls and then a Tony Bennett timeout to draw up a play for Guy with 1.5 seconds left, the improbable happened for the second time in as many Saturdays for the Virginia basketball team.

"This is something that no one's ever gonna forget," Guy said. "I'm gonna cherish this moment. We're gonna soak it up tonight. But we still got one more."

That Virginia got into that situation in the first place was a travesty. In shades of the 2016 Syracuse Elite Eight game, Virginia fumbled away a 10-point lead with five minutes left.

It all started with Ty Jerome getting in foul trouble. Jerome was the Cavaliers' most consistent player, recording 21 points, nine rebounds, and six assists (two turnovers). He passed the ball to Guy on the fateful final play. Virginia doesn't win without his big night. But with UVa up 57-48 with 4:32 left, Jerome backed down his man, took a shot, missed, and felt like he got fouled. No whistle. Jerome had a small meltdown and picked up his fourth foul on a silly reach in right after the miss, he went to the bench, and then Virginia proceeded to melt down.

"I let my frustrations get the best of me," Jerome said. "I picked up my fourth foul, just a bonehead play. And it almost cost us the game. Luckily, we somehow came out on top, so I get another chance to play Monday, but to put myself on the bench and leave my teammates like that in crunch time is a terrible decision."

I'm not sure what made Jerome decide to all of a sudden play hero ball and try to post up his defender, who was likely the smaller Harper. It's not that Jerome couldn't make that shot. He's posted up before, but pretty rarely. It isn't what Virginia needed at that time, and it wasn't the best possible shot in that moment. With UVa up nine with that much time left, a regular clean look at a jump shot would've sufficed.

Why Jerome got frustrated with his team up nine and seemingly on its way to the title game also baffles me. But the Tigers didn't have the rally handed to them. They clawed back, with Bryce Brown's three 3s in that span being the catalyst. UVa did a good job all game on Brown, who had 12 points and went 4 for 10 on 3s, until those few minutes. He went off when Auburn needed it most.

"We got up 10, and they made some tough shots," Bennett said. "Then we had a couple of tough plays. ... I do feel for Auburn, but I feel better for us right now."

De'Andre Hunter rounded out Virginia's double-figure scorers with 14 points and added five boards, two assists and two blocks. He missed his only 3-point attempt but went 7 for 11 from the field. After a quiet first half, his aggressiveness early in the second half quickly fueled Virginia's spurt to overcome a small 31-28 halftime deficit and lead Auburn. The Cavaliers led from the 18:28 to 1:57 marks of the second half.

Kihei Clark had nine points and three assists (two turnovers), and hit a big 3. Virginia went 7 for 19 from beyond the arc, with Jerome leading the way with a 4-for-9 performance. As expected, Auburn shot a lot of 3s, and it didn't pay off until the final minutes, with the Tigers going just 9 for 31.

Mamadi Diakite did not have a big offensive game, with only two points, and he also missed two crunch-time free throws, but he came up huge with five blocks and six rebounds. I was disappointed with Virginia's hustle on the glass overall, as Auburn, missing its best rebounder in Chuma Okeke, still won the battle on the boards, 33-31. But Virginia did finish with nine blocks.

It was a night where it looked like a ho-hum 10- to 15-point Virginia win was in the offing, and some of those little things were not going to matter.

And then March (April) Madness happened, and every little thing became important. Every free throw. Every missed free throw (and UVa had a lot). Every rebound. Every block. Every foul call. It all mattered.

Was Guy fouled? Yes. Even Charles Barkley, clad in the orange and blue of Auburn, not Virginia, said so. Did Jerome double dribble? Yes, but not before a foul should've been called for a defender grabbing his jersey.

"It's such a great story. It's a story of hope, it's a story of being faithful when it doesn't always look so promising," Bennett said. " ... Only those of us who have been in the locker room and have gone through what it was about last year, [we] tried keep our presence of mind, and just keep playing. We have a door knocker we hang in our locker room. ... Just keep knocking. Sometimes, the door gets slammed in your face. But perhaps you can get your foot in the door, your shoulder. And if you keep knocking, maybe you can bust it wide open, and these guys are certainly showing that."

Was it miraculous? You bet. I don't know if I thought it was possible, but I was even more speechless this Saturday than last Saturday. But for at least one more game, the basketball gods smiled down on the Virginia Cavaliers, and they again looked like a team of destiny.

They'll get a chance Monday night, against Texas Tech, to write the ultimate ending to their storybook season.

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