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Finally, the No. 1 Top Virginia Sports Moment of 2019


Purdue v Virginia Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Here on New Year’s Eve, it’s time to reveal our top moment from the Top 30 countdown of 2019’s best Virginia Cavaliers sports moments!

As a last reminder, here’s what we’ve gotten to in the top ten thus far:

1. “The Play” Leads to Final Four Berth

We heard you loud and clear yesterday when we revealed that winning the men’s basketball national championship was only the No. 2 top moment of the year. After all, it’s easy to call the national championship the greatest thing to happen to UVA sports in 2019—and maybe of all time. There’s also an argument for football snapping Virginia Tech’s streak (it was fifteen years, after all), and even Kyle Guy’s three game-saving free throws against Auburn. All of those moments are memorable.

But what happened on March 30—the night Virginia men’s basketball forever changed its perception—might just surpass all of them.

Let’s start with the play.

After Ty Jerome (accidentally?!) misses a free throw with 5.9 seconds remaining, Mamadi Diakite is able to rise above and get a hand on the ball after it flies off of the front rim to give Virginia life. The problem is that he hits it a little too far—past half court, to be specific—forcing the Wahoos to scramble just to get a shot off in time.

Enter Kihei Clark, who not only grabs it by the 3.5 second mark, but turns up-court. The freshman has the audacity to pass up both Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome—two of UVA’s best all-time players, both calling for the ball—and instead flings the ball right back to Diakite near the paint for a better look.

You know what happens next:

That whole sequence, I’ll venture to say, is the greatest singular play in UVA sports history. As the ball bounced past mid-court, the chance of them tying the game didn’t even seem possible. According to ESPN, their chance of winning when Diakite recorded the offensive rebound was 9%. I’m sure that number dipped even lower when Clark first corralled the ball.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Virginia
Kihei Clark and teammates react to the game-tying play.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Besides the improbable nature of the play itself, which should go down as one of the best March Madness has ever seen, let’s also consider its value from a narrative-changing perspective. Diakite’s shot over the outstretched arm of the 7’3 Purdue center Matt Haarms prolonged the Elite Eight game into overtime, and eventually led to a UVA win.

It allowed Bennett, for the first time in his career, to get over the postseason hump; he had reached the Final Four. Finally, the head coach was able to put all the pundits who called Virginia nothing but a “regular season team” to bed.

Based on his post-game reaction as he cut down the nets - which seemed even more emotionally charged than what he showed nine days later - you could tell just how much it meant:

Purdue v Virginia
Tony Bennett celebrates after the Elite Eight win.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Our top Virginia moment of 2019 had it all. Suspense. Drama. Heroics. Passion. Everyone will remember the national championship, sure. There’s an entire banner at John Paul Jones Arena dedicated to that. There’s probably a banner at your house, too. But everyone will also remember the emotion and sheer euphoria in those final 5.9 seconds that made it all possible.

What a play. What a moment. What a year.

Thanks for joining us on this journey back through 2019, the year of the Hoo! Here’s to making new memories in 2020.