You can talk about Cinderella stories in the tournament, but there’s no greater story than that of the Virginia Cavaliers, who had more to prove as a number one seed than any of the bottom seeded teams.
Last April, no college basketball fan had the chance to talk about Virginia winning the tournament, thanks to their historic loss as the first ever number one seed losing to a sixteenth-seeded team, UMBC, in the first round of the 2018 tournament.
The Cavaliers were the laughing stock of the NCAA the rest of the tournament and off-season.
By the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, Tony Bennett, head coach, and his players had heard more than enough about their loss and decided to take action. Going 35-3 overall in the regular season, the Cavaliers soared to a number one seed in the 2019 tournament and looked prepared to go a different direction than last year’s disaster.
After 6 hard fought wins (including 2 single digits and 2 overtime games), the Cavaliers completed their ultimate comeback by last defeating the Texas Tech Red Raiders (number three seed) by a score of 85-77. Though the journey was controversial, and tore at the heartstrings of the Cavalier fans, Charlottesville went home Monday night as satisfied as could be.
The championship game, however, was no easy task. As efficient and dominant the defense of Virginia was all season, the Red Raiders matched their skill with their own defense, making the game low-scoring, but also highly competitive each possession.
The Cavaliers were up ten at one point to the Red Raiders, who fought valiantly and forced a comeback to take the lead in the game with 30 seconds to go. However, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter made a clutch three to tie the game at 68 to end regulation, and once overtime started Texas Tech had no chance.
Though Norense Odiase played his heart out for the Red Raiders, Texas Tech fell behind Virginia once De’Andre Hunter drained another three from the corner to extend their lead. The unsung hero for the Cavaliers was Kyle Guy, junior, who went 4/4 from the line during OT.
Hunter and Guy combined for 51 of Virginia’s 85 points in the title game, and both played aggressive defense on the other side of the ball to force the Red Raiders to take unnatural shots in the closing moments of regulation and overtime.
No story in the history of college basketball can quite compare to that of the Cavaliers. Overcoming both the social media taunts of the sports world and the record books is no easy task, but Virginia did it in a years time.
Though reminiscent of the North Carolina Tar Heels redemption story back in 2017, Virginia had much more to prove than UNC. Even after such an embarrassing loss last year, Virginia managed to change their mentality for the better, proven by their work and determination in the off-season and regular season.
“To be able to hug each other with confetti going everywhere and say we did it, it’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball,” said Kyle Guy after the game was done. The pure emotions on the players faces told a story of anguish, a story of conquering critics, and a story of winning the most important game in the program’s history. In their first Final Four since 1984, the Cavaliers finished their journey with the program’s first championship in their history.