Everything was happening at once. Virginia’s Kyle Guy lifted his jersey up over his face, seemingly accepting defeat as his potential game-winning three-pointer caromed off the iron helplessly. The booming voice of the arena PA told a raucous crowd that the Auburn Tigers had taken down the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers, 62-60.
Suddenly, the mood of the arena shifted. One group of orange and blue clad fans spied a glimmer of hope as the other orange and blue contingent filled with dread. Samir Daughty had been called for a foul on the shot. Virginia would have a chance to win the game, arguably in a more dramatic fashion than their frenetic victory over Purdue in the Elite 8 that sent the Hoos to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
Guy stepped to the line and made the first two with no problem before Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl called a timeout. After some time to think about it, Guy went back to the line and smoothly made the third, putting Virginia up 63-62.
The Tigers got off a desperation heave, but it fell well short as the backboard lit up and the Virginia players, fans, and coaches started celebrating.
Kyle Guy was the face of the Virginia program following the Cavaliers embarrassing, humiliating, and historic defeat at the hands of UMBC last year. He answered question after question about the loss. He dealt with opposing fans blowing up photos of him doubled over in grief at mid-court as the Retrievers celebrated behind him. He opened up about anxiety surrounding the loss and dealing with the fallout.
No one else was more perfect to close out that game for the Hoos and send them to the title game, and no one would have wanted to be in that spot more than the junior guard from Indianapolis.
“These are the moments that every basketball player has dreamed of, hitting the game winning shot or free throws or whatever,” Guy said with a smile on his still-disbelieving face in the press conference. “Kind of had that feeling in your stomach, like a good nervousness, like, all right, this is my chance.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett was a little more succinct in his response: “I mean, I really don’t have the words.”
His teammates were sure he’d hit all three, even if there were moments that they let doubt creep in down the stretch as Virginia saw a 10-point lead evaporate and turn into a 4-point deficit in a 5:05 stretch.
“That’s the guy you want to have on the line,” redshirt senior Jack Salt said in the locker room after the game. “If we could pick anyone on the squad to have at the line, and for him to go ice those free throws is amazing.”
“I was sure he was going to make it,” Mamadi Diakite stated with a grin, continuing, “I was a little nervous, a lot nervous. For him to have the cold blood to make those three at the end and knowing that you’re down by two, to make a mistake and we’re out, that’s big.”
It took another clutch shot from Guy — who finished with 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting — to even get Virginia in the position to win the game as he canned a three with a hand in his face with seven seconds remaining. Virginia fouled Jared Harper and sent him to the line where he made just one of two and leaving the door open for the Cardiac Cavaliers.
Virginia will have a chance to culminate their dream season with a championship as the Cavaliers face either Texas Tech or Michigan State on Monday night. For the sake of Virginia fans, you hope it’s a little less stressful.