The Jerusalem Post
Virginia, Texas Tech to vie for championship
Cavaliers stun Auburn with help from foul call and free throws in final second • Michigan State falls in semis
In a battle of contrasting tempos, Virginia slowed the pace just enough to escape giant-killer Auburn 63-62 on Saturday night in the Final Four, earning a spot in Monday’s national championship game.
With 0.6 seconds left, Virginia guard Kyle Guy calmly made three free throws to win a thriller. Virginia trailed 62-60 when Guy was fouled shooting a three-pointer by Samir Doughty on the game’s final play.
His shot missed, and it briefly appeared Auburn had won the game before the foul call was clear. The controversial call saw Tigers fans fuming and sent coach Bruce Pearl into a mini tirade.
Controversial or not, we got the win,” Guy said after his clutch shots.
“I could lie to you and say I knew I was going to hit them. But I was terrified.”
Trailing by 10 with five minutes left, the Tigers came storming back, and it looked as if the No. 5-seed that already slayed three blue-bloods was going to pull off more tournament magic. Bryce Brown’s heroics in the closing minutes – three late three-pointers – made it look as if the Tigers were heading to the national title game.
But Virginia wasn’t having it. Pace aside, the Cavs made shots when it mattered. Guy made a crucial three-pointer with nine seconds left to set up his heroics at the free-throw line. And Ty Jerome’s two jumpers late in the second half built the seemingly comfortable 10-point cushion.
“This guy right here, he was frickin’ phenomenal,” Guy said to Jerome sitting by his side in the postgame news conference.
Virginia got offense from its best players to advance. Jerome’s 13 first-half points kept UVA in it early, and he finished with a game-high 21. Guy (15 points) and De’Andre Hunter (14 points) ignited the offense in the second half.
Virginia, the lone No. 1 seed playing in April, has been writing a redemption story all season, motivated by last year’s historic upset to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County.
Virginia got to Minneapolis on the tournament’s most thrilling game in the Elite Eight, escaping Purdue in overtime thanks to a game-tying buzzer-beater by Mamadi Diakite. Kihei Clark, the Cavaliers’ point guard who bulleted the season-saving pass to Diakite in the closing seconds of that Purdue game, said that “everything had to go right” for Virginia to survive.
Now the final chapter could see the counted-out Cavaliers cutting down the nets – one year after the biggest upset in March Madness history.
Texas Tech 61, Michigan State 51
By now, we should not be surprised to see that swarming Texas Tech defense claim another victim. But somehow, the Red Raiders’ dominance is still startling, every time.
“I think they get shocked, every time,” sophomore guard Davide Moretti said.
This time it was Michigan State, smothered in a national semifinal.
Jarrett Culver’s three-pointer with 58 seconds left was the dagger as the Red Raiders built a 13-point second-half lead, then held off the Spartans. But as it has throughout the NCAA tournament – and virtually all season – their defense was the difference, holding the Spartans to only 15 field goals – their fewest in seven seasons – and their lowest point total of the season (by 11).
“Their defense is really, really good,” Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said. “It forces you into some tough situations to make plays.”
Winston said the Spartans weren’t surprised. Like Texas Tech’s previous opponents, they’d studied and prepared, and during the run-up to Saturday’s game, they’d surely been asked enough questions about it.
“It was right about what we expected,” Winston said. “We were prepared. They were good at it.”
But watching it and practicing against it and fending off reporters’ queries is one thing. Tip-off comes, and the ball crosses half-court, and the relentless asphyxiation begins.
“You know it,” said Culver, assessing what he thinks opponents are feeling. “But it’s kind of different when you’re out there playing against it, realizing how hard we play and how together, and we play for 40 minutes.”
That’s essentially 200 minutes of unparalleled dominance now in the NCAA tournament, a fantastic five-game run. Opponents have averaged 55.8 points, and that’s skewed by Gonzaga’s 69-point total in the West Region final (a total, by the way, that was 19 fewer than the Zags’ average).
Michigan State had only 21 points at halftime, and yet the Spartans were only down by two. But the struggle was only half over, and it did not get better. Winston, the Spartans’ catalyst, scored 16 points but was only 4-16. The Spartans shot 31.9 percent, and hit only 7-24 three-pointers.
“They played really good defense,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I didn’t think we played very good offense. We just kind of got stagnant and didn’t move things.”
(USA Today/TNS) On TV: NCAA Tournament Championship Game: Virginia vs Texas Tech (live on ONE at 4:20 a.m. Monday night Tuesday morning).