The Virginia Cavaliers’ road to the NCAA title
This year’s NCAA final saw two teams that were both playing for their first ever championship title.
In the end, the Virginia Cavaliers overpowered the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Thereby compensating for a surprising and upsetting defeat during last season’s first round of the playoffs. Here’s a recap of the Cavs’ ascent to place a winning hand on the title.
The Cavs’ first title follows another “first” from last season, though an upsetting one.
During the 2017-2018 season, it was the first time a No. 1 seed team lost to a No. 16 after The UMBC Retrievers defeated the Cavaliers 74:54 in the first round.
During that game, the ‘Hoos didn’t show the stable defense they are known for. Surprisingly, they lost by a whole 20 points.
Up until halftime, the Retrievers managed to take the lead several times, only to be tied by the determined Cavs, ending the first half, 21:21.
However, Virginia’s efforts were no match for the Retrievers who kept pushing throughout the game. Proving their efforts, they ended up with a 50 percent success from the three-point line versus 18 percent for the Cavs.
The Maryland-Baltimore team also out-rebounded its opponents 12:7. Another indication that the Cavs were far from their top game even if they did manage to tie in the first half.
It was actually the second one that proved decisive for Virginia’s loss.
During the final 20 minutes of the game, the Retrievers scored 53 points versus 33 for the Cavs. Thus ending the game with one point more than what their rivals scored in only half the time.
A notable moment after the game was coach Tony Bennett’s gracious acceptance of this team’s defeat. “We got thoroughly outplayed, and that’s the reality of it. Very hard to guard offensively and they defended us well,” he said.
At 29 wins 3 losses, season 2018-2019 was a big one for the Cavs.
They kicked off with a home game against Towson who were no match for Virginia, losing to the ‘Hoos 73:42.
Another two home triumphs followed — against George Washington (76:57) and a serious upset for Coppin State (97:40).
Tony Bennett’s players outplayed Washington 17:42 during the first half and lost the second 40:34, with Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy each scoring 20 points.
The third win for the season was even more crushing with Coppin State suffering a 57-point defeat.
After the game, coach Juan Dixon said his team was focused on Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. This allowed De’Andre Hunter to score 20 points in fifteen minutes.
The Cavs kept serving upsets and went on a 16-game win streak before their first defeat — a narrow 72:70 against Duke.
It was a tight win for the Blue Devils during the first face-off, with Tre Jones’ absence due to an injury.
Five games later, with Jones having recovered for play, Duke managed to take a second and more decisive win (81:71) on Virginia’s turf.
The third and last loss for the Cavs was also their final regular-season game against Florida State (69:59).
The Cavs opened the playoffs with a 15-point win over the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.
However, the ‘Hoos narrowly escaped a second consecutive upset (after last season’s defeat by the Retrievers). At one point they experienced a 14-point deficit during the first half that finished 36:30.
In the end, the champions-to-be bounced back and won the second half 20:41. Thus ending the game at 56:71.
Next, the Cavs met Oklahoma for a 63:51 win. The rest of the postseason wins came with much narrower differences — 53:49 against Oregon, 80:75 against Purdue, and 63:62 against Auburn.
The game against Purdue ended with overtime as both teams managed to overpower each other only by one point during regular time.
As it was during the regular season, the high-scores went to De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy, except during the face-off against Oklahoma when Mamadi Diakite scored 14-points for the Cavs.
Diakite, who was among the starting five for the game, told ESPN: “Starting is big to me, it’s a big challenge. [Coach] is telling you,`OK, you have the responsibility to help the team, and we’re trusting you’.”
Virginia might’ve enjoyed a good season, but the final triumph didn’t come easy.
The last game was a true battle between two of the best defenses in the league. It was an exciting show for impartial viewers and nerve-shattering moments for fans from both teams.
The ‘Hoos maintained a lead throughout most of the game, twice they lead by more than 10-points. But as expected the Raiders put up a tough defense.
The first half went to Virginia. Still, the Raiders managed to come out at 39:36 from the second half, leading the game into overtime which the Cavs won 9:17.
The star for the winning team shone above De’Andre Hunter who scored a career-high of 27 points, while Jarret Culver for the Red Raiders finished with 15.
Red Raiders coach Chris Beard told ESPN: “In terms of my guys, I’ve never been more proud. This is real life. We’ll bounce back.”
Despite being their first such triumph, the Virginia Cavaliers’ success was no surprise. Even with bookmakers suggesting the team would be one of the two most likely to claim the title.
The 2019 NCAA Championship is now behind the Cavaliers. Of course, all eyes are set on what the winners will make out of their triumph.
Junior Kyle Guy already announced on Twitter that he is “declaring for the 2019 draft and signing an agent.”
Kyle also hinted he might make use of the new NCAA rule that allows players drafting for the NBA to go back to college.
Guy is the third star player from the Cavaliers to announce his attempts at the top basketball league. This was after De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome announced they will declare for the draft.
As for the Red Raider’s Jarrett Culver, he said he has not yet thought about whether he will participate in this year’s draft. He told the Dallas Morning News: “Now the season is over, I’ll take time with my family and coach and consider my future.”