It’s been over three weeks since the Virginia Cavaliers won the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament (something that will never get old to say). The Hoos rattled off six straight wins to take the title, and all of them were exciting in their own right. But, some were more exciting than others, so we decided to rank all of Virginia’s NCAA games from the 2019 tournament.
Let’s get to it!
6. Round of 32 — Oklahoma Sooners
This was pretty much the only stress-free game for the Hoos in the postseason, even if the Sooners answered Virginia’s 7-0 opening run with a 13-2 run of its own. Even though Virginia wasn’t its normal self on offense, the Hoos still scored 1.12 points per possession against the Sooners. On the defense, Virginia held Oklahoma to just 51 points one game after the Sooners dropped 95 on Ole Miss.
Virginia led by nine at the half, and the Sooners never got closer than 10 points (3:34 left in the game). Mamadi Diakite led the way with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds, Ty Jerome added 12 points, and De’Andre Hunter had 10 points in the win that sent the Hoos to their first Sweet 16 since 2016.
5. Sweet 16 — Oregon Ducks
This was the type of Virginia game only a mother could love. It was a gritty rock fight of a game with both teams grinding out possessions and making things difficult defensively. Virginia trailed by as many as six in the first half before building an 8-point half time lead thanks to eight points from Jerome and seven from Diakite.
The Ducks came back to take a three-point lead with 5:43 to play, but the Virginia defense wouldn’t allow another field goal (and just four points from the free throw line) for the remainder of the game. Diakite wouldn’t score in the second half, but he finished the game with a career-high 11 rebounds, two blocks, and one stare down of Ehab Amin.
Kihei Clark was fantastic, tying the game up with 5:21 remaining after Louis King drilled Oregon’s last field goal of the game. Clark finished with 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting and six assists. Jerome led It was the only game Virginia fell below 1 PPP as the Hoos finished with 0.96 PPP, but they held Oregon to 0.89 PPP in turn.
4. Round of 64 — Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
Normally, the first round game won by 15 points wouldn’t be this high on the list, but this one was special. Honestly, if it weren’t for some absolutely incredible games later in the tournament, I’d put it even higher, but fourth is good.
This was Virginia’s first NCAA tournament game since THAT game, and things got off to a rocky start as the Hoos fell behind by 14 in the first half. Then Virginia turned it on. The Hoos trailed by six at the half and took the lead on a Hunter free throw with 16:16 left in the game. Once the fear/anxiety was shaken, Virginia cruised, opening up as much as a 21-point lead en route to a decisive victory.
Hunter was outstanding with 23 points, and Diakite exploded for 17 points and nine rebounds as the Hoos shot 52% from the field.
3. Final Four — Auburn Tigers
It was Virginia’s first trip to the Final Four since 1984, and the Hoos made sure to make things exciting. Virginia led by 10 points after a Jerome three with 5:22 to play. From there, Auburn went on a 14-0 run to take a four point lead with 17 seconds left. Guy somehow got a three to fall from the corner to make it a one point game with seven seconds remaining and — after Jared Harper made one free throw — drew a foul with 0.6 seconds left on the clock shooting a three.
That put Guy on the line for three free throws and a chance to give Virginia the lead. He calmly made the first, canned the second, and (after a timeout from Bruce Pearl to ice the shooter) put the Hoos ahead 63-62. Auburn was unable to get the desperation heave to go, and Virginia would play for their first National Championship.
Jerome was outstanding with 21 points and nine rebounds, but his fourth foul and subsequent benching with under five minutes to play gave the Tigers a chance to climb back in the game as Virginia’s offense stalled. After a quiet first half, Hunter went a perfect 5-for-5 in the second half with 10 points (14 overall).
2. Elite Eight — Purdue Boilermakers
This was incredibly close to being in the top spot, and even as I type this I don’t feel secure in my decision. Everything about this game was ridiculous. Virginia trailed going into the halftime break, 30-29, which was honestly an impressive feat as Purdue went 8-for-19 from three in the first 20 minutes (compared to Virginia’s 2-for-12). Just before the break, Guy went down with an ankle injury, leaving his status in doubt.
All Guy did was rattle off 19 second-half points and go 5-for-7 from three, all of which were necessary as Purdue’s Carsen Edwards continued hitting just about every shot he took en route to 42 points (10-for-19 from three). Jerome added 24 points and seven assists (just one turnover), and Coach Bennett tweaked the lineup to go big as an answer to the Boilermakers. Jack Salt played 34 minutes (after playing a combined 10 minutes in the first three games of the tournament), scoring five points and being credited with eight rebounds (though that doesn’t account for all of the tip outs).
It looked as though Virginia’s luck had run out as Jerome went to the free throw line for two free throws with the Hoos down three with five seconds left. After making the first, he missed the second. Diakite was able to get the tip out, Clark tracked it down and made the best pass of maybe the century, and Diakite got the game tying bucket as the horn sounded to send things to OT.
Virginia trailed by a couple in overtime, but Hunter’s decisive bucket with 28 seconds left put the Hoos ahead for good. Kihei Clark iced the game with two free throws to send the Cavaliers back to the Final Four. Whew.
1. National Championship — Texas Tech Red Raiders
How can it not be the National Championship? Virginia capped off its historic season with an overtime victory over the formidable Texas Tech Red Raiders. Much like the two preceding games, it took a last minute comeback from the Hoos. This time, it was Hunter as the redshirt second year capped a huge second half with a game-tying three from the corner with 12 seconds left.
This was a game where both teams played stifling defense, but good offense overcame in an unexpectedly high scoring affair. Hunter saved his best game for last, scoring a career-high 27 points on 8-for-16 scoring (4-for-5 from three) and adding nine rebounds. In the second half, Hunter went 6-for-7 from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 beyond the arc.
Much like the previous games, someone stepped up big in the moment for the Hoos. Braxton Key was the guy in the title game, playing 28 minutes, scoring six points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and blocking TTU’s game winning attempt at the end of regulation.
Guy (24 points) and Jerome (16 points, eight rebounds, one turnover) were fantastic as Virginia’s offense dropped 1.21 PPP on the nation’s best defense.
In overtime, Virginia trailed by as many as three before Hunter’s fourth three of the game gave the Hoos the lead for good. The Cavaliers made 14 straight free throws (including 12 straight in OT) to end the game and secure the title.
What say you, fans? Which was your favorite game of the tournament?
Which was your favorite 2019 NCAA Tournament game?
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