Virginia prevailed in an overtime classic over Purdue on Saturday, winning the South Regional and advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
Here’s a look at four reasons why the Cavaliers (33-3) can cut down the nets in Minneapolis:
1. Inner drive. Think a Final Four will erase last year’s heart-wrenching loss to No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County? Think again. Virginia has been determined to silence doubters by not just getting to the Final Four — the Cavaliers want to win it. Kyle Guy, Virginia’s hero against Purdue, told USA TODAY Sports before the 2018-19 season even tipped off: “A lot of people think a Final Four would cover (up last year’s heartbreak). For me, a national championship is the only way to shut everyone up.”
Coach Tony Bennett told reporters Saturday last year’s heartbreak has been the team’s compass all along: “If you learn to use (the adversity) right, it will buy you a ticket to a place you could not have gone any other way.”
2. The nation-leading defense. While Purdue’s Carsen Edwards erupted for 42 points against Virginia, the rest of the Cavaliers’ opponents this season have only managed a dozen more points than that as a team. The Boilermakers were just the fourth team this season to score more than 70 points on UVA — and Duke accounted for two of those games. That’s by design, as Bennett’s pack-line man-to-man defense is meant to knock more athletic teams out of rhythm and dictate a slower pace. UVA stifled its first three NCAA tourney opponents to an average of 52 points.
More: Virginia earns first Final Four spot since 1984, winning classic overtime thriller with Purdue
Asked what makes the defense so effective, guard Ty Jerome told USA TODAY Sports earlier this season: “Honestly what makes it so damn good isn’t so much the scheme. Anyone can go out there and implement a pack-line D. It’s what we do every day in practice, how disciplined and detail-oriented we are.”
And as great as Edwards was, it was UVA’s defensive stops in overtime that ultimately helped it survive.
3. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy in the backcourt. The duo combined for 49 points in the win over Purdue, with Guy breaking out of a shooting slump to finish with 25 points on 5-for-12 3-point shooting. With freshman point guard Kihei Clark more of a ball mover and distributor, both Guy and Jerome seamlessly know when the ever-patient UVA offense needs their scoring. Jerome’s craftiness against Purdue included an and-1 jumper in regulation and scoop-shot runner in overtime. When the shot clock is winding down, most teams get frantic and take a bad shot. That’s when Virinia excels.
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The duo’s veteran poise showed in crunch time vs. Purdue and gives them an edge if they find themselves in a nail-biter in the Final Four.
4. De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite in the frontcourt. Hunter’s 6-7 frame and Diakite’s 6-9 frame give Virginia great size and length to thrive defensively, and both players have enough athleticism to make game-changing plays on both ends. It was Diakite’s tip-out to Clark with five seconds left that set up his game-tying jumper at the regulation buzzer on Saturday.
More: The most thrilling moments that defined Virginia’s OT Elite Eight win over Purdue
And then it was Hunter – an NBA talent with takeover abilities – with the running layup that gave the Cavaliers the decisive basket in overtime.
One statistic that was a difference-maker in Virginia’s Elite Eight win was offensive rebounds (UVA had 17 to Purdue’s 8). That’s largely a result of Diakite, Hunter and Jack Salt’s work on the glass that gave the Cavs second-chance points.