If you were anywhere in Culpeper Monday night, Apr. 8, when the College Basketball National Championship ended, I am sure you could have heard me screaming, unless you were sound asleep at almost midnight.
My beloved UVA Cavaliers edged Texas Tech 85-77. The basketball pundits viewed this game and the tournament one of the best in a very long time.
The Hoos found redemption from its inglorious departure from the tournament in 2018. The Wahoos were the tournament’s No. 1 seed – Duke was this year. Let’s face it, the Hoos were outplayed and out coached by a No. 16 seed team that hardly anyone had heard of. Now, everyone who follows college basketball knows about UMBC.
However, head coach Tony Bennett used that embarrassing loss as a life lesson and motivation to perform better this year and pursue and redeem the program with a national title. It was a “United Pursuit” and it worked.
The Yard Sale Queen, decked out in her Cavalier garb, and I attended almost every home game. We never saw them lose at John Paul Jones Arena this year.
The Hoos finished the regular season 30-3, while going 16-2 in the ACC.
Coach Bennett’s philosophy of slow offense and suffocating defense doesn’t appeal to everyone. In fact, that was the rap about UVA, with so-called experts claiming that style of play couldn’t win championships. Wrong!
The Hoos showed their team approach to winning during March Madness. Some of the games were not pretty. I was screaming at the TV when they trailed or blew a big lead. But I didn’t quit on them; they certainly didn’t quit on each other or their fans.
The Hoos overcame a huge deficit against No. 16 Gardner-Webb in the opening round.
In the Elite 8 overtime game against Purdue an improbable effort by 5-9 freshman Kihei Clark, who chased down a missed free throw tap back and fired a 40-foot laser to Diakite, who lofted a buzzer beating shot over a 7-2 defender to send the game to overtime and another victory. Purdue played an exceptional game but was sent away in tears after a heartbreaking loss.
The Hoos weren’t finished. In another nail-biter, this time in the Final Four – a place the Hoos hadn’t been in 35 years – the Wahoos held off a scrappy and determined Auburn team. More clutch shooting, including free throws by Guy, sent the Tigers home wiping away tears.
Next up was defense-minded Texas Tech. The Hoos were a one-point favorite. The pundits predicted a low scoring game. It wasn’t. This game too went into overtime, with the Cavaliers on the winning end. De’Andre Hunter had a fantastic game both offensively and defensively.
But how did this team REALLY get to cut the net in Minneapolis? Good coaching? Check! Talented starters? Check!
However, behind the scenes during sweaty and demanding practices is where the offense and defense gets schooled and challenged.
Sure, the stars like Guy, Hunter, Jerome, Diakite, Clark, Salt and Key get all the media attention, but it is the bench players who make the team a team.
Fan favorite 7-1 Jay Huff saw more playing time as did 6-4 Marco Anthony. But what about 6-7 freshman Kody Stattman or 6-3 Charlottesville native freshman Jayden Nixon or 6-7 redshirt freshman Francesco Badocchi? And let’s not forget another Charlottesville native former walk-on 6-6 Austin Katstra, 7-0 freshman Francisco Caffaro and last but not least Charlottesville native and team manager Grant Kersey, who dressed and played this year to the delight of the fans.
These are the guys who labor far away from the spotlight to help the stars shine. They contest shots, they play defense and challenge the offense to help the starters and featured players hone their skills.
The fans and they know the contributions they made to hoisting that championship banner at John Paul Jones Arena.
Meanwhile, the Yard Sale Queen and I will bask in the glow of a redemptive national championship for the Virginia Cavaliers. It was a long time coming, but they earned it through hard work and above all teamwork.