Retribution for Virginia, and at last an exciting game
MINNEAPOLIS — You know the story. Everyone in America does. The basketball team that embarrassed itself. That made the wrong kind of history.
The first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament ever to lose to a 16th seed, to suffer the slings and arrows of too many gleeful critics.
Well, one year later that team, the University of Virginia, is the national champion. Who says fate and a tough defense aren’t kind?
Or that the success, the retribution, would come easily?
The Cavaliers kept losing leads. And then, trailing by three points with only 22 seconds remaining Monday night, seemingly destined to fail in a critical situation that would have made that first-round defeat a year ago to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County seem trivial in importance, they got a huge game-tying jumper by De’Andre Hunter.
The game would go into overtime, and Virginia, saved, would go on to defeat Texas Tech, 85-77, to win its first national title.
“We work every day in practice on holding a 3-point lead,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, whose team this season had the best defense in college. “I trust my players. We don’t want to give up a 3. But he slipped through. Give Virginia credit.
“They are a really good team. So much poise.”
This game, with two teams that emphasize defense, was forecast as a drag, a bummer, boring and low-scoring. And with more than five minutes played, the worst fears were realized, Virginia holding a 4-3 lead.
Was this basketball or soccer?
The answer came soon enough. Texas Tech, which had only free throws for more than eight minutes and trailed 9-3 — yawn — got a 3-pointer, and everything changed. U.S. Bank stadium, the Minnesota Vikings' home where some 70,000 fans were inside for another sport, came alive.
Virginia went ahead by 10. Tech came back. The sequence repeated. So no Duke or North Carolina — but in Virginia, another Atlantic Coast Conference team, and in Texas Tech a hard-scrabble group that wouldn’t fade, it was a tantalizing game.
The Virginia kids, understandably, were weary of references to last year’s stumble, but their coach Tony Bennett — no, not the guy who left his heart in San Francisco — began his post-game talk about a near stumble this year, in the first-round game, falling behind another 16 seed, Gardner-Webb.
But obviously the Cavs survived, just as they did in two other games.
“These guys faced pressures no athletes have to face,” said Bennett.
And responded the way championship athletes do. Hunter’s 3, nothing but net, was almost shocking. Virginia was finished. Swish. Tech was shaken.
“We felt like we had momentum,” said Tech’s Jarrett Culver, the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, “because we came back from 10. We’ve been through a lot together.”
But until Monday, they never had been involved in a national title game.
After a first half in which he missed all six of his field goal attempts, Culver finished 5 of 22 for 15 points. Davide Moretti also had 15 and Brandone Francis had 17. For Virginia, Hunter had 27 and Kyle Guy — who made the game-winning free throws in the semi against Auburn — scored 24.
Beard, the Texas Tech coach, was asked if he thought of fouling Hunter before the 3-pointer that tied the game.
“If they had come down and run and run a more deliberate possession like they normally do, we would have fouled," said Beard. “But to me, they got real aggressive, and we didn’t have a chance to do that.”
Hunter was 1-for-8 at halftime. Then he added 22 points after the break for his career high of 27.
“Without watching the films,” said Beard, “yeah, we had some defensive lapses. We had Matt Mooney on him. He’s an all-Big 12 on defense. Hunter just made some tough shots.”
The first overtime championship game since 2008 caused a problem for CBS, televising the game. It not only had no post-game show, it didn’t conclude as usual, with “One Shining Moment.”