Flashback: Looking back at ‘The Shot’

EDITOR’S NOTE: With all the television replays of Virginia’s run to the national basketball championship last April, we decided to get in on the action. Here is the most-read story ever on our website, looking back at Mamadi Diakite’s shot that put the Cavaliers in the 2019-20 Final Four, and the pass from Kihei Clark that allowed it to happen. Enjoy reliving the magic.

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: The Miami Herald

MINNEAPOLIS – It went from being the shot heard round the world – at least the basketball world – to now being immortalized as one of the greatest shots in March Madness history.

Virginia fans just call it beautiful, a moment that will go down in Cavalier lore with the likes of Barry Parkhill’s jumper over Frank McGuire’s South Carolina; Ralph Sampson’s stickback of a missed free throw to beat Lefty Driesell’s Maryland in Ralph’s last home game;  Sean Singletary’s running jumper and the stare with one second to go to beat Duke; Malcolm Brogdon’s winning 3-pointer at Pitt that left him so stunned that he didn’t even know how to celebrate the buzzer-beater; Ty Jerome’s deep dagger at Cameron to end UVA’s 23-years of frustration at Duke, and De’Andre Hunter’s miracle three at the buzzer to cap a five-point comeback in nine-tenths of a second at Louisville.

Those are all part of Wahoo legend, but this moment belongs to an unheralded player that most college fans never heard of until last Saturday night.

That moment belonged to Mamadi Diakite, with literally and figuratively an assist from true freshman Kihei Clark.

Diakite proved to all of us that blondes have more fun when he sank a 12-foot jumper from the right of the key as the buzzer sounded to send Virginia’s game vs. Purdue into overtime. At stake was a trip to the NCAA Final Four, the first trip for either program since the 1980s. Diakite and his fellow Wahoos went on to win the game, but no one has stopped talking about his shot at the end of regulation.

It was such a vital moment for UVA that Cavalier fans have been trying ever since to come up with a catchy slogan – without much success –  to immortalize it. Choose your own adjective but likely nothing will suffice.

Even Diakite, who tinted his hair blonde a few weeks ago much to the dislike of his parent doctors back in Guinea, was somewhat dumbfounded when asked to describe it in the postgame press conference.

What was going through his mind when he let the shot go?

“I don’t know,” Diakite said. “It happened. I was the person who was designed to take it, and I don’t know. I took it, and it went in. I was happy and ready for the next five minutes. I don’t know how to talk about it. It was unbelievable. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t know.”

With 5.9 seconds remaining in regulation and Virginia trailing 70-67, Jerome was fouled and went to the free throw line to shoot one-and-one.

He made the first free throw, meaning if he made the second and cut Purdue’s lead to one, then the Boilermakers would have possession and likely control of their own fate. If he missed the second, then Virginia had to get the rebound and score.

Wisely, UVA guard Kyle Guy signaled to 6-9 Diakite that if Jerome missed the free throw, then the big forward should try to tap the ball back outside for a last-ditch shot.

“I made the first on purpose,” Jerome laughed when asked if he intentionally missed the last free throw. “There was so much going through my mind. I didn’t really miss it on purpose. I short-armed and Mamadi did a good play by hitting it and Kihei made the play of the century, and Mamadi being ready to shoot.

“Actually let me add that [Clark] looked me off first or looked Kyle off first, and then looked me off. Then he got to Mamadi over here, and he made a great play.”

After Jerome missed the second free throw attempt, Diakite tipped it well back into the backcourt, where Clark scooped it up. Clark spotted Diakite to the right of the lane and lasered a perfect pass to at least shoulder high so that Diakite didn’t have to stretch for the pass. It was catch, shoot, jubilation.

(Enter your Hallelujah chorus here)

Diakite was wide open because Purdue big man, 7-3 Matt Haarms was left under the basket to guard both Jack Salt and Diakite.

As soon as the ball swished, Salt rushed to Diakite for a celebrative bear hug. Officials reviewed the play to make sure the shot got off in time, but the reaction of the Virginia bench and crowd already confirmed what the TV replay would reveal.

Not only was the shot perfect but so was the freshman Clark’s ability to chase down the ball in the backcourt and make a split decision to get it to an awaiting Diakite. It was like Tom Brady hitting Julian Edelman with a perfect strike.

Had Diakite had to jump or bend to haul in Clark’s pass, he wouldn’t have gotten the shot off in time and you would be reading a completely different story about the Final Four.

When Jerome – a guard who never shies away from taking the big shot – saw the ball sail over top of everyone and into the backcourt, he desperately wanted the ball.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Jerome said. “I was just screaming for the ball. I was screaming at Kihei. I said a lot of words and was clapping my hands really fast.”

Exactly what UVA coach Tony Bennett was thinking, too.

“Ty was clapping, I was like ‘throw it to Ty,’ we’ll get one up there,” Bennett said later. “Mamadi to catch it and get it off that quick, so improbable.”

Clark’s version of the moment was almost as nondescript as Diakite’s.

“As soon as I caught it and was dribbling, I saw [Diakite] right away,” Clark said. “Amazing feeling to get the win. I’m at a loss for words, but yeah, it feels great.”

The view of the fantastical play from the Purdue bench was quite interesting. Coach Matt Painter said that when the ball was tipped backcourt, it was exactly what he had been hoping for under those circumstances.

“Some things actually went in our favor there,” Painter said. “That was a favorable tip-out. That’s what you want. You want the ball to go away from their basket. A 3-pointer can beat us. As a coach, when that happens, you’re like get the basketball, guard the arc.

“The last thing you’re thinking, you have two big guys boxing out. They should be right there by the rim. You’re not worried about that as much. But it’s also, the ball’s so far out when it goes past half court that you’re not thinking about that,” Painter explained.

At the same time, Purdue guard Carsen Edwards went straight to defend Jerome because the last thing Painter wanted was for Jerome to get the ball.

“We had the ball in the guy’s hands that we wanted,” Painter said. “Clark had the ball. With that being said, [Clark] made an unbelievable play to find Diakite, and then Diakite had the wherewithal to shoot it immediately. Made a tough shot. Those intermediate shots right there, those catch and shoots at 12 feet are difficult.

“Play of the game,” Painter said.

Heck, play of the tournament. One of the plays in NCAA history, being compared to Laettner over Kentucky, Jenkins over Carolina, N.C. State’s Lorenzo Charles over Houston to set off the memorable Jim Valvano running all over the court looking for someone to hug.

As Final Four voice Jim Nantz might say, Diakite’s shot was one for the ages, one that will give him immortality in the annals of Virginia basketball.

Guess blondes do have more fun.

Comments

  1. Frank says:

    Even better the second time around. Thanks Hooty!!

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