The Virginia Cavaliers are playing in the Final Four tonight (that never gets old to say), taking on the Auburn Tigers at 6:09pm EST in Minneapolis. Virginia’s journey to the Final Four was arduous, fun, exciting, and dramatic, reaching from the devastating loss that ended last season to the overtime victory against Purdue in the Elite 8.
Before the game kicks off, let’s take a look back at Virginia’s road to Minneapolis.
Virginia finished the regular season with an impressive 28-2 record. The Hoos cruised through the non-conference, picking up wins at Maryland and against VCU after hitting the road for the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. In Atlantis, Virginia rattled off wins over Middle Tennessee State, Dayton, and Wisconsin en route to the tournament title.
The Hoos entered conference play with a perfect 12-0 record, and kicked ACC play off with a dominating win over the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles. Virginia rolled through Boston College, Clemson, and Virginia Tech before falling for the first time of the season in a game against Duke in Cameron Indoor.
Virginia rebounded with a five-game win streak, but fell at home to the hot shooting Blue Devils. A huge win over North Carolina on the road kicked off a new win streak, and the Hoos finished the season with eight straight wins and earned a share of the ACC regular season title. For the second straight year, the Hoos would be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament.
The Cavaliers drew NC State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, falling behind early but using a huge second half to come away with a commanding 76-56 win. This was “The Jack Salt Game” as the big man went off for 18 points while shooting 7-of-8 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free throw line.
Virginia dropped their third game of the season in the ACC semifinals as the Hoos went cold from the field and struggled against Florida State’s length.
NCAA Tournament — First Weekend
The Cavaliers earned their fourth No. 1 seed in six years (2014, 2016, 2018, 2019), with the committee sending them to Columbia to face 16-seed Gardner-Webb. Things were a little dicey in the first 10 minutes of gameplay as Virginia fell behind by as many as 14 points before a Kihei Clark three cut the lead to six just before the half.
De’Andre Hunter took over the second half, scoring 17 of his game-high 23 points after intermission. Virginia would take the lead with 16:16 left in the game and go on to an easy 71-56 win.
In the second round, Virginia drew No. 9 seed Oklahoma, fresh off of a high scoring affair over Ole Miss. The Cavaliers got off to a quick 7-0 start, but a 13-2 run gave the Sooners an advantage partway through the first half. Virginia would return the favor with an 18-2 run to retake control of the game, and the Hoos entered halftime with a nine-point advantage.
Virginia would lead by as many as many as 16 in the second half as the Cavaliers controlled the tempo of the game. The 63-51 win propelled the Hoos into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016, led by Mamadi Diakite’s 14 points and nine rebounds.
NCAA Tournament — Sweet 16
Man, what a rock fight. Virginia faced red-hot Oregon in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, playing a Ducks team on a 10-game win streak and employing a tricky matchup zone defensively. Both teams were comfortable playing a lower possession game, and Oregon had the type of length and athleticism that the Hoos struggled with in losses to Duke and Florida State.
The lead traded hands a couple times in the first half as both teams made runs, but the Hoos took an eight point lead into the break. A three-pointer from Oregon’s Louis King would give the Ducks a three-point lead with 5:43 to play, but the Virginia defense wouldn’t allow another field goal as big threes from Clark and Ty Jerome tied and put the Hoos ahead for good, respectively.
NCAA Tournament — Elite Eight
Virginia earned its spot in the Final Four in the most dramatic way possible as the Cavaliers and Purdue Boilermakers played in one of the best March Madness games in recent (and maybe even not-so-recent) history. Both teams started off hot from the floor, but Purdue would take a 10-point lead in the first half thanks to deadly three-point shooting. The Cavaliers managed to cut the deficit to one-point at the break — despite Purdue going 8-for-19 from three over the first 20 minutes — and would take a lead on a Kyle Guy three on the first possession of the second half.
The second half was a prize-winning fight as Jerome and Guy tried to answer the unconscious shooting of Purdue guard Carsen Edwards. Nothing the Virginia defense did slowed him down as he just pulled up for three from further and further away en route to a 42 point (10-for-19 from three) performance for the ages. Guy broke out of his shooting slump at the right time, going 5-for-8 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Things looked bleak when Edwards banked in a three with 1:10 to play, but Virginia once again found a way to make the magic happen in the KFC Yum! Center.
Clark’s epic pass and Diakite’s magical finish gave Virginia life once again, and they wouldn’t let the opportunity pass. The two squads kept dishing out body blows in overtime before Hunter finished in traffic for a 76-75 lead with 28 seconds left. The defense would hold strong and, after four straight made free throws to seal the game, the Hoos would be going to Minneapolis for the program’s first Final Four since 1984.
Virginia will fight for a spot in the national championship game. Here’s to this crazy journey continuing a little bit longer.