MINNEAPOLIS — It was a boyhood dream come true for Virginia guard Kyle Guy.
The junior had practiced countless times for this moment, with the outcome in his hands on college basketball’s grandest stage, the Final Four. Guy needed to make three free throws to extend the season and produce yet another cardiac finish for the top-seeded Cavaliers.
“Kind of had that feeling in your stomach,” he said. “Like a good nervousness.”
Guy proceeded to make all three foul shots with six-tenths of a second to play, and No. 5 seed Auburn was unable to get off a shot before the final horn, triggering a wild celebration among Cavaliers players following the 63-62 win on Saturday night.
The triumph sends Virginia (34-3) to Monday night’s national championship game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium. It is the first title game for both teams.
Getting there included the Cavaliers wasting a 10-point lead in the final 5:03 before Tigers guard Samir Doughty was called for a foul trying to guard Guy during a three-point attempt from the left corner.
Moments earlier, guard Jared Harper had made 1 of 2 free throws to put Auburn (30-10) ahead 62-60 with seven seconds to play in a game that included a bit of late-game officiating controversy.
Replays showed Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome appearing to double-dribble before being fouled with about five seconds left, but officials did not call it, providing the Cavaliers with an enormous break in their first Final Four appearance since 1984.
“We were in a situation late where we had some fouls to give, and I knew there was a disruption there,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said when asked whether he thought Jerome had double-dribbled. “You’ve just got to get on to the next play.”
The Tigers had erased a 57-47 deficit by scoring 14 in a row down the stretch, with Bryce Brown’s three-pointer putting Auburn ahead 59-57 with 1:56 to go. The senior guard made three three-pointers during the surge.
Anfernee McLemore made two free throws for Auburn with 17 seconds left for a 61-57 lead before Guy sank a three-pointer from in front the Cavaliers’ bench to pull Virginia within a point with 7.4 seconds to play.
That field goal provided Virginia with its first points in more than five minutes on a play Coach Tony Bennett drew up during a stoppage.
“These last two games, oh my, how they ended,” Bennett said, referring to Virginia’s 80-75 win over Purdue last weekend in the South Region final that required Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer-beater to go to overtime. “We got up 10 [against the Tigers], and they made some tough shots, and we had a couple of, I think we stood a little bit, and we had a couple of tough plays. We played well in the second half.
“I do feel for Auburn, but I feel better for us right now.”
Guy finished with 15 points, second on Virginia behind Jerome’s 21. Jerome made 4 of 9 three-pointers and added nine rebounds and six assists while dealing with foul trouble in the second half.
“To think this time last year we were starting our spring workouts,” Jerome said, “and to still be playing at this point in the season with, after tonight, one other team in the whole country on the stage that you dreamed about since you were a little kid, it’s an unreal feeling.”
The Cavaliers had claimed their largest advantage on Jerome’s three-pointer with 5:22 to play, leading to a timeout from Pearl. Jerome then walked to the Virginia bench with arms raised, urging the Cavaliers’ fans to make even more noise.
An uptick in defensive pressure helped the Cavaliers pull ahead early after a 31-28 halftime deficit.
They did not permit Auburn to score for the first 5:46 coming out of halftime, bothering the Tigers by getting hands on loose balls, forcing deflections, going under screens and guarding man-to-man with extra vigor.
The Tigers went eight consecutive possessions without a point to open the second half.
De’Andre Hunter handled the bulk of the scoring for Virginia during a 12-5 burst in that time with three baskets in the painted area, including grabbing an offensive rebound and putting it back to grow the advantage to 40-36.
“I thought his second half was key for us,” Bennett said of the ACC defensive player of the year. “De’Andre really did the things we needed, got us different kinds of baskets, whether he could drive, got a couple of offensive rebounds, and really a very strong second half for sure.”
Hunter finished with 14 points, including 10 in the second half, on 7-for-11 shooting. The sophomore guard-forward made all five of his field goal attempts in the second half.
Guy’s winning free throws, his only attempts in the game, came on a night when Virginia went just 6 for 12 from the foul line.
But Guy is a nearly 80-percent free throw shooter for his career, and he calmly sank the shots while attempting to block out the screams from Auburn supporters desperately hoping for him to miss.
Just like he had done over and again in an empty gym, at the playground or in his driveway growing up in basketball-crazy Indianapolis.
“We all trust Kyle,” Cavaliers reserve forward Braxton Key said. “He’s one of the best free throw shooters on the team. We have confidence in him. We knew he was going to make all three.”
Jerome carried the Cavaliers offensively in the first half, scoring 13 points, but he didn’t get much help. Thus Virginia trailed, 31-28, at halftime after the Tigers closed on a 14-6 push that featured three-point field goals from Doughty and McLemore.
“I mean, I don’t know what’s destined,” Diakite said. “We somehow ended up winning, every crazy shot, every crazy game, like that.”
— Gene Wang
In a game noteworthy for its lack of foul calls, despite physical play on both sides, a foul was called on Auburn’s Samir Doughty while Virginia’s Kyle Guy was taking a desperation three-pointer with sixth-tenths of a second left. Guy made the first two to tie the game, before an Auburn timeout gave him more time to think about it, as well as to let the Tigers form a plan. Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl was extremely upset about the foul call, with good reason, given its huge implications for the outcome of the game.
Auburn’s Jared Harper made one of two free throws with 7.4 seconds left, giving his team a two-point lead, but the fact that the Tigers had two fouls to give may have been even more significant. That meant the team could prevent Virginia from getting the ball downcourt easily for a game-tying or -winning shot. The second foul left the Cavs with less than two seconds to get off a shot.
Kyle Guy may have saved Virginia’s season, at least for a moment, with a three-pointer with 7.4 seconds left, cutting the Cavs’ deficit to 61-60. That ended a 14-0 run for Auburn, with Bryce Brown getting hot late in the game.
Auburn has gone on a 12-0 run to retake the lead, 59-57, with less than a minute left. During the run Virginia has had five missed shots, plus two missed free throws and a turnover.
Auburn’s Bryce Brown broke the SEC record for most three-pointers in a season with 139, hitting from long range with 4:24 left. The shot was all the more important because it cut Virginia’s lead to six and ended an in-game slump for Harper, who had been 1 of 8 from the field. Brown followed with another three and two more free throws cut Virginia’s lead to 57-56.
Ty Jerome picked up his fourth foul with 4:32 left, sending to the bench the game’s leading scorer, with 21 points. Jerome had tried to post up a smaller player in Auburn’s Bryce Brown, and he may have committed a frustration foul trying to poke the ball away from behind on the Tigers’ ensuing possession.
Ty Jerome’s three-pointer with 5:14 to go gave Virginia a 10-point lead, a margin all the wider in light of both teams’ struggles to score. Auburn has hit just 6 of 26 three-pointers, but it might have no choice soon but to heave up some more and hope for the best.
CBS’s Tracy Wolfson reported that Jared Harper had been suffering from flulike symptoms going into the game, then was being treated for cramping on Auburn’s sideline. The junior guard, arguably the Tigers’ most important player, has had a subpar game thus far, with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting and one assist, plus three turnovers.
At 50-43, Virginia took the largest lead of the game with less than nine minutes left. Kihei Clark and Ty Jerome made three-point shots to help the Cavs, who have outscored Auburn 22-12 so far in the second half. Jerome has 16 points, leading all scorers, with teammate De’Andre Hunter joining him in double figures at 12, after scoring just four in the first half. Samir Doughty’s 12 points lead Auburn.
Mamadi Diakite’s block on Auburn’s Daniel Purifoy was Virginia’s seventh of the game, while the Tigers have none. With 6-foot-8 Auburn starter Chuma Okeke out of the tournament with a knee injury suffered in the Sweet 16, the Cavs were expected to have an advantage inside and it’s certainly shown up on the defensive end.
With five and a half minutes gone in the second half, Auburn has failed to score while Virginia has put up six points to retake the lead, 36-31. The Tigers’ backcourt of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown continues to struggle, combining to score just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting, with three assists and three turnovers.
One reason the teams have combined for just 10 personal fouls is that officials are letting Virginia and Auburn get away with some very physical play. On one possession early in the second half, the Tigers’ Jared Harper was bumped twice on a drive with no whistle before he gave up the ball, and after Auburn eventually missed a shot, the Cavs’ Ty Jerome was clearly shoved from behind after he came down with the ball.
In what sure looks like it’s going to be a tight game, Virginia has made just one of five free throw attempts. The Cavs came into the game having made 74.6 percent as a team.
If it feels like the first half flew by, that’s because it kind of did. Virginia and Auburn combined for just nine fouls and seven turnovers in a game that may not have felt quite as cleanly played considering all the missed shots. The lack of dead-ball situations, though, meant that the usual TV timeout with under four minutes to go never occurred, and the first 20 minutes of game play unfolded in less than 40 minutes of real time.
Virginia was struggling from long range, hitting just two of its first eight three-point shots before Ty Jerome got one to go with just over a minute left. De’Andre Hunter followed shortly thereafter with another miss from beyond the arc.
At the half, it’s Auburn 31, Virginia 28, and the Tigers have to be happy to hold a lead despite going just 3 of 14 on three-point attempts. They have out-rebounded Virginia, 20-14, while successfully taking the ball inside on a number of possessions.
The score might be more lopsided, but the Cavaliers have blocked four shots to Auburn’s zero. Virginia, though, is just 3 of 9 from long range and De’Andre Hunter has just four points on 2-of-6 shooting.
With 13 points, Virginia’s Ty Jerome is the only player in the game with double digits in scoring to go with four rebounds and three assists. Anfernee McLemore and Samir Doughty lead Auburn with seven points apiece and McLemore leads all players with six rebounds.
With Auburn’s pair of standout guards, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, thus far unable to put their stamps on the game, the Tigers have gotten a huge lift off the bench from reserve guard Samir Doughty. He has seven of the team’s 24 points, including a three-pointer, plus four rebounds.
At a TV timeout with just over seven minutes left in the first half, Auburn could feel fortunate to only be down 20-17, considering the Tigers started a ghastly 1-11 from three-point range. Virginia has only made one three-pointer, as well, but has only taken three. The Tigers also have four turnovers to the Cavs’ one, another area where they hoped to gain more of an advantage.
DeAndre Hunter has been struggling throughout the tournament on the offensive end, and he got off to another slow start. The Cavs’ 6-foot-7 guard, a possible lottery pick in June’s NBA draft, finally got on the board with a jump shot with just over 10 minutes to go in the first half, but he was unable to continue his hot streak, missing another jumper on Virginia’s next possession.
No sooner had the Tigers nudged ahead by showing signs that they were starting to get the Cavaliers into more of a helter-skelter game, than Virginia benefited from a pair of turnovers. The first led to a runout that ended with a Kyle Guy layup, and at the other end, the Tigers’ J’Von McCormick was whistled for an offensive foul on a push-off.
Perhaps recognizing that the long-range shots were not falling early, Auburn came out of the game’s first timeout with an emphasis on taking the ball to the basket. The results were a Samir Doughty layup and two free throws by the junior guard, plus a short jumper from Auston Wiley. Virginia answered with its own make from close range, by Ty Jerome, but Auburn used a 9-2 run to surge into the lead.
With the score 8-7 in favor of Virginia at the first TV timeout, Auburn could only hope to improve on its three-point shooting. The trey-happy squad made just one of its first five against the Cavs, but was hanging around in large part because of a 6-3 edge in rebounding. Thus far, Virginia has looked comfortable, as deliberate in its offense as ever.
Virginia got what it wanted on Auburn’s first two possessions: a shot-clock violation and a missed three-pointed range. To beat the Cavaliers, the Tigers need to keep up a high pace and also make a solid percentage of their numerous attempts from long range, assuming they play the way they have all season. The Cavs were able to score the game’s first points on a layup by Mamadi Diakite — scoring inside is a major key for Virginia — and they picked up another basket on a dunk a few moments later.
How they got here: Virginia (33-3) started the season with 16 straight wins before the first of two losses against Duke. Its only other loss came to Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals. The Cavaliers opened the NCAA tournament with double-digit wins over No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb and No. 9 seed Oklahoma. Then came two close calls: a 53-49 win over No. 12 seed Oregon and last Saturday’s 80-75 overtime win over No. 3 seed Purdue. That was Virginia’s ninth win against a ranked team this season, a school record.
The Tigers (30-9) have won 12 straight games entering the Final Four, including four games in four days to win the SEC tournament. They were 6-6 in their last 12 games before starting this win streak. Auburn opened the NCAA tournament with a one-point win over No. 12 seed New Mexico State. Then came the heavyweights; The Tigers beat No. 4 seed Kansas, No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 2 seed Kentucky, the last victory coming in overtime.
— Des Bieler
Final Four history: Virginia is in its third Final Four, and first since 1984. The Cavaliers lost both of their previous national semifinals: to North Carolina in 1981, 78-65, and to Houston in overtime in 1984, 49-47. Auburn has never played in the Final Four.
Fast facts: Entering the Final Four, Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense and turnovers per game. The Cavaliers are fourth in three-point field goal percentage defense, fifth in field goal percentage defense and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio . . . Kyle Guy had 25 points and 10 rebounds in Virginia’s Elite Eight win over Purdue; it was his first career double-double . . . Virginia is one of just two Division I schools with players from five different continents on its roster . . . Both teams have already set single-season program records for wins . . . Auburn star Chuma Okeke had surgery for a torn ACL suffered in the Sweet 16 and will not play. He is not expected to travel to Minneapolis . . . The Tigers are the first team to beat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky consecutively in the NCAA tournament, according to Reuters; those are the three winningest programs in Division I history . . . Auburn has made 445 three-pointers this season, the most in the nation.
They said it: “We’re fortunate to find guys that are better than people think . . . Whether they have four stars, five stars, or whatever the rankings are, that stuff’s insignificant, especially in basketball. It’s more what do they do when they get there and how do they develop. I think we always try to find guys that are sneaky good — that’s the word we try to use — and go after them.” — Virginia Coach Tony Bennett.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re shooting. You could be shooting at Rucker Park in Harlem, or you could be shooting in a football stadium. You just have to have confidence.” — Virginia guard Kyle Guy.
“When I got to Auburn, our basketball program, our athletes may have been recognized as athletes, but they didn’t wear a lot of Auburn basketball gear because it wasn’t — we weren’t holding up our end. And so I’m glad now that our men’s basketball players can join the other athletes like the football team, like the softball team, like the soccer team, like the baseball team, like the equestrian national championship team, the golfers and the tennis players and guys and gals in the pool. Because now, like them, we are competitive. We are champions.” — Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl.
“We live by the three, and we die by it,” — Auburn forward Danjel Purifoy.
This Final Four pits the unentitled against the unentitled. It’s a Final Four without famed “one-and-done” players, a Final Four built off the painstaking, day-to-day, years-long quest for improvement. Even perhaps its best player, Michigan State leader Cassius Winston, when asked to critique the player he was upon arrival in college, began with, “I would say clueless. (Read more)
The Cavaliers aren’t going to be satisfied with anything short of the school’s first national championship in men’s basketball. But in many ways, whatever unfolds in the sport’s final weekend is simply a bonus. (Read more)
The likely future NBA lottery pick’s numbers are down. His teammates and coach aren’t worried one iota about the state of the Hunter’s offensive game entering Saturday night’s national semifinal. (Read more)
Without one of the most remarkable plays in NCAA tournament history, the Cavaliers would be home this week and Tony Bennett would still be hearing doubters claiming his system can’t produce a Final Four team. The author of that play was Clark, the 5-foot-9 inch freshman point guard. (Read more)
The kerfuffle surrounding the wedding registry of Kyle Guy and Alexa Jenkins is over, according to Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams. After the Cavaliers guard and his fiancee said they were told posting their wedding registry online constituted an NCAA violation, Williams said the couple would be permitted to do so. (Read more)
Virginia’s journey, much like the last time the Cavaliers were within two wins of a national title, has featured constant reminders of a crushing loss along the way. Here’s a look back at that 1984 run. (Read more)
If Lubbock seems a worthy place for a little surrealism, well, the 230,000-odd people who live there seem to be feeling just that. They’re adapting to one of those truths hard to process because it previously had occurred precisely never. The whole thing is almost absurdly fresh. (Read more)
The Post’s Neil Greenberg says Virginia has a 74 percent win probability on Saturday night, while Michigan State has a better than 50 percent chance to win. (Read more)