Minneapolis, Minnesota: In a battle of contrasting tempos, Virginia slowed the pace just enough to escape giant-killer Auburn 63-62 Saturday in the Final Four, earning a spot in the national championship game on Monday.
With 0.6 seconds left, Virginia guard Kyle Guy calmly made three free throws to win a thriller. Virginia trailed 62-60 when Guy was fouled shooting a three-pointer by Samir Doughty on the game’s final play.
His shot missed, and it briefly appeared Auburn had won the game before the foul call was clear. The controversial call saw Tigers fans fuming and sent coach Bruce Pearl into a mini tirade.
Trailing by 10 with five minutes left, the Tigers came storming back, and it looked as if the No. 5-seed that already slayed three blue-bloods was going to pull off more tournament magic. Bryce Brown’s heroics in the closing minutes — three late three-pointers — made it look as if the Tigers were heading to the national title game.
But Virginia wasn’t having it.
Pace aside, the Cavs made shots when it mattered. Guy made a crucial three-pointer with nine seconds left to set up his heroics at the free-throw line. And Ty Jerome’s two jumpers late in the second half built the seemingly comfortable 10-point cushion.
“This guy right here, he was frickin’ phenomenal,” Guy said to Jerome sitting by his side in the postgame news conference.
Virginia got offense from its best players to advance. Jerome’s 13 first-half points kept UVA in it early, and he finished with a game-high 21. Guy (15 points) and De’Andre Hunter (14 points) ignited the offense in the second half.
Early on, Auburn gave Virginia a taste of its own medicine, scoring two buckets with the shot clock winding down late in the first half to take a 31-28 halftime lead.
The Cavaliers (34-3) eventually settled into their style of play in the second half, using a suffocating defense to shift the momentum of the game. Auburn kept its close with its high volume of outside shots (9-for-31 from beyond the arc). The Tigers also used full-court pressure to try to force turnovers and offset Virginia’s methodical pace on offense. It ultimately wasn’t enough.
Virginia, the lone No. 1 seed playing in April, has been writing a redemption story all season, motivated by last year’s historic upset to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County.
Virginia got to Minneapolis on the tournament’s most thrilling game in the Elite Eight, escaping Purdue in overtime thanks to a game-tying buzzer-beater by Mamadi Diakite. Kihei Clark, the Cavaliers’ point guard who bulletted the season-saving pass to Diakite in the closing seconds of that Purdue game, said that “everything had to go right” for Virginia to survive.
Now the final chapter could see the counted-out Cavaliers cutting down the nets — one year after the biggest upset in March Madness history.