Virginia: Team Of Destiny II?

Photo by Matt Riley | UVA Sports Media Relations

By Jerry Ratcliffe

MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Guy scored six points in eight seconds Saturday night, including three pressure-packed free throws with sixth-tenths of a second remaining to defeat Auburn and propel Virginia into Monday night’s championship game against Texas Tech.

That drama followed last weekend’s miracle win over Purdue in the Elite Eight, when Mamadi Diakite etched his name into the annals of UVA basketball history. Trailing the Boilermakers by a point in regulation, with 5.9 seconds remaining, teammate Ty Jerome had missed a free throw, Diakite wisely tapping the rebound well into the backcourt.

Freshman Kihei Clark chased down the ball and as the clock ticked toward doom, Clark whipped a long pass to an open Diakite, who hurled up a 12-foot prayer that swished the net, and sent the game into overtime. Virginia won, 80-75, advancing the Cavaliers to their first Final Four in 35 years.

How many times have we seen Virginia claw its way back from adversity this season, beating the odds with an improbable play. Even a year ago, who could ever forget the miraculous comeback at Louisville when the Cavaliers scored five points in nine-tenths of a second to pull off a stunning win?

The longer this tournament runs, the more it reminds us of another team that continued to defy probability, Jim Valvano’s 1983 “Team of Destiny” at NC State.

Certainly there are significant differences. That Wolfpack team didn’t smell a No. 1 seed for its body of work. It was 20-10 entering the NCAA Tournament, only finished 8-6 in the ACC.

No one believed that State would last long in the NCAA’s, let alone go on a magical six-game winning streak and win the whole thing, stunning No. 1 seed Virginia and Ralph Sampson in order to get to Albuquerque and the Final Four, then knocking off Houston’s “Phi Slamma Jama” in a championship game that we’ll all remember.

“When you’re on a roll, who knows what can happen,” the late Jimmy V said about that ride. “The key for us is to be down five with 30 seconds left. That’s when we start doing our best.”

Valvano’s quote may sound familiar to Wahoo fans, who have watched their team pull off some unbelievable wins.

In the ‘83 roll that Valvano mentioned, in the Wolfpack’s opening game, it trailed Pepperdine by six with 24 seconds remaining in overtime. State won in double overtime, 69-67.

Then the ‘Pack upset No. 3 seed UNLV, 71-70, on a last-second, tip-in by Thurl Bailey. State went on to beat Utah, 75-56, then stunned Sampson-led Virginia, regarded as the best team in the nation, 63-62, to reach the Final Four.

In Albuquerque, State downed Georgia, 67-60, setting up what appeared to be a mismatch with highly-talented Houston. Who will ever forget the buzzer-beating dunk by Lorenzo Charles when Derek Whittenburg’s 30-foot jump shot came up short, sending Jimmy V into a frantic dance all over the floor, looking for someone to embrace?

State’s Cinderella run was so amazing that they made a 30-for-30 documentary of the whole thing, entitled “Survive and Advance.” That’s what it’s all about.

We’ve heard Virginia coach Tony Bennett mumble that phrase a few times over the past week or so.

There have been plenty of hugs and celebrations along the way, at Louisville’s Yum Center following Virginia’s win over Purdue, then again Saturday night in cavernous U.S. Bank Stadium when Guy was mauled by his teammates in minutes of jubilation. Guy blew kisses to UVA fans as he exited the court to a chorus of boos by Auburn fans who didn’t agree with the foul call that sent the Cavalier sniper to the line for three free throws with less than a second to play.

When the Wahoos got back to their locker room on Saturday night, Bennett had one strong piece of advice to his team: “We’re not done yet.”

During Sunday’s interviews, the question had to be asked. Is Virginia a “Team of Destiny II ?”

“I believe our steps are ordered,” said Bennett, a man of strong faith, during Sunday’s Final Four interview session. “I think you walk and you do everything you can with the abilities you’ve been given as players, as coaches, and then you trust.

“I just, I believe that. So the fact that we’re here, yeah, I think there’s been a hand in this. In my life, I’d be foolish not to believe that.”

Virginia’s players and coaches believe they wouldn’t be here, playing for a national championship on Monday night, had it not been for the stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in last year’s first round.

Guy said that doubt never creeped in, that “we’re going to find a way to win … just stay disciplined. We make so many adjustments, coaching adjustments, player adjustments, we do what it takes to win.”

Should Virginia cut down the nets Monday night, there won’t be any Jimmy V kind of antics by Bennett, a more reserved guy, who to our knowledge has really only shown emotion once in 10 years with that roar after cutting down the net in Louisville.

Maybe the Cavaliers’ run hasn’t been quite as dramatic as NC State’s was in ‘83, although a couple of the UVA wins have perhaps been even more dramatic.

State’s was more improbable unless you inject last year’s Virginia nightmare into the equation, leaving the majority of the sporting public holding fast to a belief that Bennett’s teams can’t win in March.

Like Valvano said, when you get on a roll, who knows.

Guy certainly believes a championship can happen. He left us with a parting shot Sunday, pointing out that after the UMBC loss to the national championship, “We’re looking for a 30-for-30.”

Survive and Advance, Part II?



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