Sunday, March 31, 2019

Schaible: Shock and awe as the Cavaliers make their first Final Four since 1984

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons- Getty Images

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

I don’t think I’ll ever forget March 16th, 2018.

I remember leaving my house in Jacksonville and thinking, “I don’t really need to rush to see Virginia take on UMBC.”

Fortunately, the traffic gods cleared the way from sunny Jacksonville to perpetually foggy Charlotte and I watched as history was made.

After a gritty UMBC squad played its hearts in the first half to force a tie at the break, we knew the second half would likely be a runaway.

And it certainly was.

Only it was UMBC that dominated and sent the number one overall seed home with an embarrassing 20-point defeat.

It was a very long offseason for the Cavaliers.

In October, coach Tony Bennett and team captains Kyle Guy and Jack Salt, returned to Charlotte for ACC media day.

They spoke about moving on, new year, forgetting about the past etc… It was what we needed to hear and frankly, what they needed to say.

But did they really believe it?

After Gardner Webb raced out to a 14-point lead in round one of this year’s tournament, thoughts of back-to-back collapses raced through the heads of everyone in Columbia, SC and those watching around the world.

But they persevered.

And when trouble lurked ahead, the Cavaliers implanted a fierce inside and outside attack along with a suffocating defense to stifle Oklahoma and made Boomer Sooner go bust.

In the regional semifinal, Virginia barely held off Oregon in a gritty contest, 53-49. Once again, the Cavaliers overcame an early deficit en route to the Elite Eight.

Then things got really crazy.

After a mad scramble off a missed Ty Jerome free throw, Freshman Kihei Clark found Mamadi Diakite for a last second 12-foot shot.

And with that, it was on to overtime.

Back and forth things went for much of the extra period but, a couple of bad passes and shots not falling for Boilermakers led to an anticlimactic finish to an incredible game.

Diakite still can’t believe his good fortune at the end of regulation.

“I don’t know, it happened,” said Diakite. “I was the person who was designed to take it. 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.”

On the tenth anniversary of Tony Bennett taking over the reins in Charlottesville, he had reasons to reminisce.

“I’m glad they kept me for ten years,” Bennett said. “To be at a place ten years is a long time in today’s day and age. It’s a pretty good ten-year anniversary gift for sure.”

Kihei Clark enrolled at Virginia three months after the loss to UMBC. While not a part of last year’s squad, he certainly shares in the emotion felt by upper class men teammates.

“I wasn’t here last year, but it feels great to get to the Final Four. Amazing feeling. I’m at a loss for words right now.”

For Virginia, the script of redemption is only a pair of games away from completion with purple rain possibly falling down at U.S. Bank Stadium come April 8.