MINNEAPOLIS - After 115 years, what's another 5 minutes?

This was the storybook end. Kyle Guy calmly making two free throws in overtime, smiling a goofy smile. He knew. We all knew. This was their night.

They're immortal now, the 2019 Virginia Cavaliers.

Every March, the montage will play, and Guy will once again be 21 years old, living out his dream with incredible poise on an impossibly large stage.

Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77. One last, brightest shining moment in a postseason full of them.

Let the Good Old Song ring out. The Wahoos are champions, and in a tournament often marked by chaos, this time order prevailed. The best team in America is the last team standing.

They didn't back into this one. Texas Tech gave its best shot for the full 45 minutes, shooting better than most teams do against UVA and playing defense so good the Cavs must have felt like they were playing in front of a mirror.

The game was worthy of the stage, and what a stage it was. More than 72,000 fans packed into the giant Viking ship in Minneapolis, screaming their heads off for every basket, shot clock violation and celebrity sighting on the video board.

UVA and Texas Tech were both undeterred, though. They weathered the peaks and valleys of the game, with future NBA first-rounder De'Andre Hunter missing his first seven shots then storming back to have a big impact in the game.

And of course, what would any UVA postseason game be without the drama? The Red Raiders trimmed a 10-point deficit to zero, then took the lead.

Then, overtime. A crowd that had roared all night instead buzzed with a nervous energy, a collection of butterflies more impressive than Lewis Ginter's.

But the Cavaliers stayed calm through it all. If the best teams take on the persona of their coach, UVA's players gave a performance worthy of theirs.

Texas Tech's Chris Beard screamed himself into a shade of red that matched his team's jerseys. UVA's Tony Bennett exuded cool, imploring his team to hold firm defensively.

This game had it all. Moments of great defense, moments of great offense, and a battle of two NBA-ready stars as Jarrett Culver and De'Andre Hunter traded clutch plays in the final minutes.

Then, a thundering finish - Braxton Key blocking a shot and slamming down the game-sealing dunk to a loud ovation.

Key is immortal now, too. He, Hunter, Guy and the rest of the Wahoos are champions. The beers are forever free on The Corner. The memories forever fresh in the thousands of Wahoo fans who lived and died with every moment.

For 45 thrilling minutes, UVA proved what we all knew: The Wahoos had the hearts of champions.

MINNEAPOLIS – If March is for madness, then April is for achievement.

Tony Bennett’s defense-minded Virginia team topped Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime on Monday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, winning the final, thrilling chapter in this NCAA tournament run and bringing the Cavaliers the program’s first national championship.

And along with it, UVA buried last year’s stunning upset loss to UMBC under a pile of gold and silver confetti and streamers.

Sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter hit an open corner 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to tie the game, and junior forward Braxton Key tightly contested Jarrett Culver’s buzzer-beating jumper to send the game to overtime, tied 68-68.

In the overtime, the Cavaliers outscored national coach of the year Chris Beard’s Red Raiders 17-9.

Steady as ever, junior guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy combined for 40 points, and De’Andre Hunter, in what was likely his final college game before turning pro, finally had a breakout game in this tournament, finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds.

Not only did Hunter’s 3-pointer send the game into overtime, his 3 in the added period gave Virginia the lead for good.

Virginia led 53-43 after a Guy fall-away 3-pointer from the corner with 10:24 to play, only to see the Red Raiders storm all the way back to tie the game, much the way Auburn did two nights earlier in the national semifinals.

Just like Saturday night’s win, Virginia was unflappable at the free throw line, going 12 for 12 at the stripe in the final five minutes.

Virginia has been one of the nation’s best basketball programs for much of the past five years. Monday night, they finally ended the season as No. 1.

This team of unshakeable faith and immeasurable heart, the one a year removed from the most painful of early tournament exits, finally reached the Final Four – and when they did, they made sure not to leave Minnesota empty handed.

A year after suffering the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, a first-round loss to 16th-seeded UMBC, the Cavaliers were back marching through March and attacking April, looking for the ultimate redemption and vindication for their oft-criticized coach’s defense-oriented, low-scoring style of basketball.

Not only did they prove Bennett’s approach could win in March, they went undefeated in April.

The Cavaliers were appearing in their first Final Four since 1984 and their first-ever national championship game. Bennett, in reaching college basketball’s final weekend for the first time in his 10-year tenure at UVA, had become just the second son of a Final Four coach to also reach this point.

John Thompson and John Thompson III also did it, both with Georgetown.

Bennett’s father, Dick, coached Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four. Monday night, Dick Bennett sat behind the UVA bench and anxiously watched as his son eclipsed his highest achievement. Nearly two decades since Tony Bennett sat on his dad’s bench as an assistant as the Badgers lost in the national semifinals, Bennett led the Cavaliers to their first-ever championship.

They needed a month’s worth of miracles to get to Monday night, first surviving Purdue in the Sweet 16 thanks to Mamadi Diakite’s game-tying shot at the buzzer to force overtime, then beating Auburn in the national semifinals on three free throws by Kyle Guy with .6 seconds to play.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Perhaps only one college basketball coach in the country could have brought Virginia back from an emotional hole deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Perhaps only one coach could have put aside the personal disappointment of how Virginia's 2017-18 season ended and focus on how to rebound for the 2018-19 season.

Perhaps only one coach could have held his players' attention when he said one loss, no matter how painful, does not define you, does not determine your future and will not have a negative impact on the season to come.

Bennett led the way, thinking, brainstorming and constantly searching for ways to overcome the disappointment while praying for the strength to handle the disappointment he felt.

All along, though, Bennett kept things in perspective and encouraged his players to do the same.

Every thing Bennett said, and everything the players did almost from the moment of that the 2017-18 season ended came to fruition Monday night.

In the national championship game against Texas Tech, Virginia won 85-77 in overtime. It is Virginia's first national championship in men's basketball.

But the path to this moment was neither simple nor easy.

In the first game of the 2018 NCAA tournament, Virginia lost to the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Virginia fans are weary to the point of sickness to the point of anger of being reminded the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history.

Facts are stubborn things, though.

This particular fact drove the Cavaliers through every off-season workout and every practice and game once the season began.

Bennett was the catalyst for overcoming the disappointment, but he could not get the Cavaliers through the season and to the national championship game on his own.

He needed the players to buy into what he was preaching, especially junior guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy.

And they did.

From the start of the season to the end of the season, Guy's response to the UMBC issue was the Cavaliers were driven by something bigger than just winning games this season.

When asked what that might be, his consistent response was, "I think everyone knows the answer to that."

Do not think every practice, meeting and film study session was a gentle reminder from Bennett of what the team needed to do to improve.

He had to get the team through the devastating loss it had suffered, but he wasn't about to go easy on his players because of the loss.

"Coach Bennett always says I know it's hard to play for me," Jerome said during the Final Four interviews here. "That's the first thing I tell people [when asked]. I say, 'It's hard, but in a good way.

"That's why my defense has improved so much since I got here. Everything is super hard, you gotta stay continuous,l and the one thing he'll always yell at us for is if we're lazy on defenseor if we mimss a defensive assignment.

"There's no leeway on the defensive end, and that's what got us here."

Chances are excellent Bennett will have nothing to yell about, at least in anger, for a while.

The Cavaliers, on the strength of a superb second-half performance by redshirt sophomore De'Andre Hunter, surged to a lead, then lost the lead but never lost their composure.

When the game was tightest and the outlook bleakest, the Cavaliers were at their best.

Hunter had five points in the first half. He finished the championship game with 27, a career high, and 9 rebounds.

Hunter was at his best when it mattered most, sinking several 3-pointers to reel in the Red Raiders when the game's momentum seemed to have shifted toward Texas Tech.

Losing the first game in the tournament in 2018 has made winning the final game of the 2019 tournament all the sweeter for Virginia.

Now, Bennett faces a different challenge. He must keep the returning Cavaliers humble and constantly remind them that one year's success, just like one year's failure, does not mean all hope is lost.

That's a much easier problem to face.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.