MINNEAPOLIS — The confusion hadn’t even been cleared by the time Kyle Guy began to compose himself. While the thousands at U.S. Bank Stadium and millions watching at home tried to make sense of the final 1.6 seconds, Guy was steeling himself for the most important free throws of his life. Maybe the most critical ever in the history of Virginia basketball.
The whistle blew after Guy’s potential game-winning 3 missed the mark, and while it was initially unclear if that was signaling the end of the game or that Auburn’s Samir Doughty had fouled Guy, the Cavaliers junior looked as though he was mourning a loss. Instead, he was preparing to take the fate of a program in his hands and shoulder the weight of history.
“I put my face into my jersey, but that was me focusing,” Guy said. “I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special.”
Guy stepped to the line and swished three-straight free-throws, delivering Virginia into Monday night’s national championship game with a 63-62 win over Auburn as the Cavs continue to survive the NCAA tournament a year after suffering one of its most notorious exits.
“Every round we advance, and every round I say the same thing almost, and it feels a little bit sweeter, a little bit sweeter,” junior Ty Jerome said after his 21-point, six-assist, nine-rebound performance. “But to think this time last year we were starting our spring workouts, and to still be playing at this point in the season with, after tonight, one other team in the whole country on the stage that you dreamed about since you were a little kid, it’s an unreal feeling.
“We’re going to do everything we can to finish the job.”
Virginia has the opportunity to win its first national title thanks to a former Indiana Mr. Basketball coming through in a moment dripping with tension, crushing in its pressure and enormous in its stakes.
“He’s built for that moment,” Virginia assistant Brad Soderberg said. “He lives for that stuff.”
There’s no one else Virginia would have wanted in that moment rather than the 82.5 percent free-throw shooter who was spent his three years in Charlottesville with a sense of confidence and self-assurance that radiates from him. He lives to define the moment rather than be controlled by it.
There, though, with 0.6 on the clock and his team down by two, Guy had three shots to chart the course of history. A year after 16th-seeded UMBC had shattered their season, Virginia now had blown a late 10-point lead to a five-seed with a national title game spot on the line.
Guy had three tosses to save Virginia.
“I was trying to look at my fiance. I couldn’t find her so I looked at my dad,” Guy said. “I got this. I looked at my future brother-in-law, he started smiling. I just smirked at him. I got this.”
That smirk gave way to two swishes. Tie game.
Then Auburn used a timeout, forcing Guy to contemplate the game-winner that lay before him on the other side of a huddle he ignored.
“I didn’t hear one word anybody said. I didn’t want any part of what they were talking about,” Guy said. “I just wanted to focus. I don’t even know what the plan was if I made it.”
His teammates saw Guy drifting from them, and kept their distance, secure in what his process would yield.
“Try to stay away from Kyle. Let him get his space, get in his own head. Don’t try to hype him up or anything,” Braxton Key said.
With the isolation of the free-throw line looming, Virginia left Guy alone.
“You don’t need to talk to someone like that in that moment,” De’Andre Hunter said. “He knows it’s a lot of pressure. You don’t need to add any more to it.”
With the biggest shot of his life forthcoming, Virginia offered no advice.
“He knew what he needed to do,” Jack Salt said. “He didn’t need me to tell him how to shoot free throws.”
There was nothing to say because Virginia knew what Guy knew.
“I wasn’t settling for two,” he said.
So guy walked back to the line, took a dribble, bent his knees and let the ball loose into history.
“He was cold-blooded for that,” Mamadi Diakite said.
A dream delivered.
“To be able to go to the national championship off of that for these guys and coach (Tony) Bennett, I mean, I really don’t have the words,” Guy said. “We all practiced those shots as a kid. They were probably a little bit more spectacular than free throws, but whatever it takes to win.”
After Auburn could find no miracle in that last 0.6, made his way off the the floor and into history, taking a moment as he ran to put his hand to his mouth and blow a kiss toward the crowd. No doubt it hit its mark.