Cava­liers carry on

Late foul call, Guy’s FTs send Vir­ginia to pro­gram’s 1st cham­pi­onship game

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FINAL FOUR - By Ralph D. Russo

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MIN­NEAPO­LIS — Hard to call Vir­ginia bas­ket­ball bor­ing af­ter the last two games. And the Cava­liers have pretty much put the choker la­bel to rest, too.

From one-and-done to NCAA Tour­na­ment mir­a­cle men, Vir­ginia will play for the na­tional ti­tle for the first time af­ter pulling off another last-sec­ond stun­ner. Kyle Guy made three free throws with 0.6 sec­onds left, steadily swish­ing each one as de­bate im­me­di­ately started over the se­quence that sent him to the line, and Vir­ginia beat Auburn 63-62 on Satur­day in the Fi­nal Four.

A year af­ter be­com­ing the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, th­ese top-seeded Cava­liers now look like des­tiny’s team.

“It’s a great story,” Vir­ginia coach Tony Ben­nett said. “It is.”

The Cava­liers (34-3) will face No. 3 seed Texas Tech on Mon­day night.

Ben­nett has built a pow­er­house pro­gram in 10 years in Char­lottesvill­e on a style of play that is of­ten about as ex­cit­ing as a trip to the cam­pus li­brary. The Cava­liers have got­ten straight A’s in the reg­u­lar sea­son with stingy de­fense and walk-it-up of­fense, but NCAA suc­cess has been hard to come by. Blown leads and early ex­its have been their story — never more than when the Cava­liers lost to UMBC, a com­muter school known for chess, not hoops.

Some­thing has got­ten into th­ese Wa­hoos the last two weeks, though. They reached the Fi­nal Four for the first time since 1984 with a wild buzzer-beater by Mah­madi Di­akite to send their Elite Eight game against Pur­due to over­time. Beat­ing the Tigers took an even cra­zier fin­ish.

No. 5 seed Auburn (30-10) erased a 10-point deficit in the fi­nal five min­utes and took a 4-point lead. The Tigers led 61-60 af­ter Guy made a tough 3 with 7.6 sec­onds left. The shot snapped a drought of more than five min­utes by the Cava­liers, who im­me­di­ately sent Jared Harper to the line.

Harper made one and Auburn, with fouls to give, did so twice. On one of them, it looked as if Ty Jerome might have dou­bledrib­bled into a de­ci­sive turnover. But there was no whis­tle. MEN’S FI­NAL FOUR

“We knew there was a dis­rup­tion,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said of the pos­si­ble missed call.

With 1.5 sec­onds left and in need of some magic, Vir­ginia got the ball to Guy in the cor­ner. He turned and fired and Samir Doughty bumped into Guy’s hip. The shot was short, bounc­ing off the rim. Game over? Auburn started to cel­e­brate and the PA an­nouncer in U.S. Bank Sta­dium even an­nounced the Tigers had won.

Guy pulled his jersey over his face. But not in angst. He said he ex­actly knew why of­fi­cial James Breed­ing had blown his whis­tle.

“I heard him call it right away,” Guy said. “That was me fo­cus­ing.”

Mean­while, Pearl lost it on the side­line, pump­ing his fist and scream­ing.

“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” said Bryce Brown, who led the Auburn come­back with three 3s in the fi­nal 4:30. “It’s not why we lost the game. I just didn’t agree with the call.”

Pearl said he didn’t want the fi­nal call to de­fine a great game, but he did say the of­fi­cials seemed to be let­ting phys­i­cal play go through­out.

“My ad­vice if that’s a foul, call it,” Pearl said. “Call it at the be­gin­ning of the game, call it in the mid­dle, call it at the end. Don’t call it any more or less at any other time.”

Guy swished the first two free throws to tie it and Auburn called a time­out to ice him. Didn’t work. He hit one more for the lead.

“I just lit­er­ally told my­self that we dream of th­ese mo­ments, and to be able to make one hap­pen was spe­cial,” Guy said.

Auburn threw a long in­bound pass to Brown, but his des­per­a­tion 3 was short.

The Cava­liers mobbed Guy on one end. Brown sat on the court, head hang­ing on the other. Auburn, in the Fi­nal Four for the first time, had its 12-game win­ning streak and sea­son end in a most painful way.

Jerome scored 21 points for Vir­ginia and De’An­dre Hunter had 10 of his 14 in a stel­lar sec­ond half.

Doughty led Auburn with 13 points.

But the team that made UMBC a house­hold name — at least for a lit­tle while — in the first round of last year’s tour­na­ment would not be de­nied. Be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of maybe the most hum­bling NCAA Tour­na­ment up­set ever has been Vir­ginia’s cross to bear all sea­son. Even af­ter beat­ing Auburn, the Cava­liers had to re­call the feel­ing of their off­sea­son rou­tine start­ing un­ex­pect­edly early last year.

“I feel like I get asked this ques­tion every sin­gle round, every round we ad­vance, and every round I say the same thing al­most,” Jerome said, “and it feels a lit­tle bit sweeter, a lit­tle bit sweeter.”

Then Guy said: “Not much to add. Just you guys can ask that ques­tion again on Mon­day.”

CHAR­LIE NEIBERGALL/AP

Vir­ginia play­ers cel­e­brate af­ter their 63-62 vic­tory over Auburn in the first of two na­tional semi­fi­nals Satur­day in Min­neapo­lis.

STREETER LECKA/GETTY

63 62 61 51 Vir­ginia’s Kyle Guy draws a foul on Auburn’s Samir Doughty while at­tempt­ing a 3 with 0.6 sec­onds left in Satur­day’s game.

Sec­ond semi­fi­nal #3 Texas Tech #2 Michi­gan State Cham­pi­onship: 9 p.m. Mon­day, CBS

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