BY BLAIR KERKHOFF
KANSAS CITY STAR/TNS
MINNEAPOLIS – Talk about flipping a script.
A year ago, Virginia walked off the floor from its NCAA Tournament appearance as the loser in the biggest upset in the event’s history.
Monday night, the Cavaliers stood under a confetti shower, cut down nets and watched highlights of their 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech in the NCAA championship game during the traditional “One Shining Moment” video.
The Cavaliers won and held off a game Tech team in the same manner that made them ACC regular-season champions. Virginia played terrific defense and efficient offense, especially in the second half and overtime.
HUNTER SETS TONE
In the extra period, De’Andre Hunter’s 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining gave Virginia a 75-73 lead, and the Cavaliers started to open their advantage.
Hunter was excellent on both ends of the floor throughout the game. His 27 points led both teams, and he set the tone on the defensive end with his work on Tech’s Jarrett Culver, who didn’t get his first field goal until 15:26 remained in the second half.
Tech rallied to push the game into overtime.
The Red Raiders trailed by six when Matt Mooney buried a corner 3, and Tech followed it with a Norense Odiase three-point play with 3:28 remaining to tie the game. The Cavaliers had led by eight with 5:46 remaining in the second half.
With every possession looming large, the teams came up with huge plays. Virginia stretched the lead to four, but Tech’s Davide Moretti answered with a 3.
A MINUTE LEFT
The Red Raiders had the ball down one with 1:08 remaining. A missed shot turned into a jump ball with the arrow pointing to Tech with 42 seconds to play.
Culver got the ball at the top, headed to hoop on the right side but spun back and banked it in softly for a 66-65 lead.
Virginia’s Ty Jerome looked to respond quickly but his running floater from the left side was long. Odiase grabbed the board and was fouled.
He made both with 22.5 seconds to play to extend the lead to three.
Hunter answered with the biggest shot of the game. Left open in front of the Virginia bench, he swished a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining.
It was Tech’s turn. Culver launched a contest 3 that was off-target. But the ball rolled out of bounds off the Cavaliers. Tech ball with one second remaining and the ball taken out on the side.
Each team took a timeout. Mooney got the ball to Culver, but his corner 3 was blocked by Braxton Key.
The despair of last year’s loss as a No. 1 seed to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County — the first such upset in the NCAA Tournament — was a driving force in a positive way for this year’s team.
“That was such a pivotal moment and devastating in so many ways and humbling that I knew we had to be there for each other in ways we never would have had that not happened,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
“So it was about sitting together, talking and just working through stuff and battling through it. And trusting each other.
“What could we do to be better in certain situations as a team? You think differently. Through any adversity, there’s such wisdom in it.”
Virginia was the team that kept its poise and made the big play down the stretch during tight NCAA games, starting with the Cavs’ regional semifinal against Oregon.
A CLOSER CALL
A miraculous sequence of events, starting with a missed free throw tap-out, allowed the Cavaliers to send the South Region title game against Purdue to overtime.
The national semifinal game against Auburn was an even a closer call, if that’s possible.
Kyle Guy was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining while attempting a 3-pointer. He made all three shots from the line to give the Cavaliers a one-point triumph.
Monday was Hunter’s time to come up with the big shot, sending the game into overtime.