The Virginia men’s basketball team will be without ACC sixth man of the year De’Andre Hunter for the NCAA tournament after the 6-foot-7 guard-forward broke his left wrist, Coach Tony Bennett announced Tuesday, dealing a severe blow to the Cavaliers’ national championship aspirations.
The news came just three days before Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament in the South Region, plays No. 16 seed Maryland Baltimore County on Friday night in Charlotte.
Hunter, the Cavaliers’ fourth-leading scorer (9.2 points per game), is scheduled to have surgery Monday and is expected to be out 10 to 12 weeks.
A statement released by the athletic department indicated the injury happened during last week’s ACC tournament in New York. Virginia (31-2) captured its second ACC tournament title in three years by beating North Carolina, 71-63, in the championship game Saturday night at Barclays Center.
When the injury occurred is unclear. Hunter landed awkwardly during Friday night’s 64-58 semifinal victory over Clemson, bracing his fall with both hands as he crashed onto the court late in the first half. He missed two free throws shortly thereafter and finished with nine points. But the versatile redshirt freshman with NBA potential had 10 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes in the next night’s tournament final.
Hunter’s absence likely means increased playing time for reserve forward Mamadi Diakite, a 6-9 redshirt sophomore who has played in every game this season and averages 5.3 points and three rebounds in 15.4 minutes.
“Won’t be the same without my brother . . . but know this. We got you and this for you,” tweeted Cavaliers starting guard Kyle Guy minutes after Virginia tweeted the announcement on its official account.
Hunter’s injury is the latest misfortune to plague Virginia entering an NCAA tournament. Last season, starting forward Isaiah Wilkins was suffering from an illness and was limited to five minutes in a first-round victory over UNC Wilmington. Wilkins sat out the next game, and the Cavaliers lost to Florida, 65-39.
In 2015, standout wing player Justin Anderson underwent an emergency appendectomy late in the season and later broke the pinkie on his shooting hand, leaving him less than 100 percent for the NCAA tournament, when the Cavaliers lost to Michigan State, 60-54, in the second round.
Hunter made one of the most memorable shots of this past regular season when he banked in a three-pointer as time expired to give Virginia an improbable 67-66 victory at Louisville. The Cavaliers scored five points in the final 0.9 seconds of that game to complete a 9-0 conference road record, the first in ACC history.
Hunter scored a career-high 22 points Feb. 13 to spark a 59-50 win against Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. He made 3 of 6 three-point attempts and added three rebounds in a performance Hurricanes Coach Jim Larranaga credited largely for the outcome.
“They had De’Andre Hunter,” Larranaga said. “He was the answer to every one of the questions we presented to them.”
Hunter’s scoring touch was but one of many ways in which he contributed to Virginia’s record-setting run through the ACC. He also proved highly valuable as a defender and as one of the Cavaliers’ most skilled passers.
During a 59-44 win against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 3, Hunter frequently operated out of the high post, with Virginia running its offense through him to attack the Orange’s challenging 2-3 zone defense.
Hunter had a season-high six assists with just one turnover, delivering pinpoint passes to Diakite and starting forward Isaiah Wilkins cutting to the basket for uncontested dunks and layups.
Hunter’s athleticism has generated other highlights this season as well, most notably a dunk over Tar Heels senior guard Joel Berry II on Jan. 6.
“Early in the season I was kind of tentative and not too aggressive,” Hunter said at the time, “and my teammates kind of got on me for that, so as the season went on, I just tried to get more and more aggressive and help the team in any way possible.”
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