NCAA championship a fitting end to UVA's story

MINNEAPOLIS (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Tony Bennett first used the passage "joy comes in the morning" in the aftermath of Virginia's loss to Syracuse in the 2016 Elite Eight. But it also applied perfectly to coaches, players, fans -- anyone connected to the UVA men's basketball program -- as they woke up Tuesday.

With Monday's 85-77 overtime win against Texas Tech at US Bank Stadium, the Wahoos had completed their "united pursuit" of the program's first-ever national championship. But in the locker room afterward, the Cavaliers admitted that they weren't completely satisfied.

“It’s more I’m just so proud of my group, so proud of this team, so proud of these coaches. And just so happy. So happy," junior guard Ty Jerome said at his locker. "But I love playing basketball, so I still, I want to work out still. I want to play more games. I’m kind of mad the season’s over.”

Jerome and his teammates spent all year playing with that kind of chip on their shoulders. Most of the players on UVA's roster were part of last year's historic loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a storyline that loomed over the Cavaliers' entire season.

On Monday night, those same players made more history.

“It feels great, man," said UVA junior forward Mamadi Diakite. "‘UMBC, UMBC.’ I guess we’re not going to hear about that anymore. But if we hear it again, whatever. We can just hold that finger up and say we’re champion last year. We’re champion.”

But the aftermath of that UMBC loss provided the Cavaliers with more than motivation. Bouncing back from that "painful gift," as Bennett called it throughout this postseason, gave Virginia the resiliency that was on display throughout his team's run to the NCAA title.

UVA trailed in the closing seconds of its final three NCAA Tournament games. Diakite's buzzer-beater forced overtime in the Elite Eight, as the Wahoos eventually withstood Purdue. Kyle Guy calmly knocked down three free throws with a fraction of a second remaining to beat Auburn in Saturday's Final Four. And on Monday, it was De'Andre Hunter's 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in regulation that tied the national title game and forced overtime.

In the locker room on Monday, junior forward Braxton Key credited "the ultimate faith and confidence that we have in one another."

"I mean, we’ve been through what we’ve been through last year," Key said. "Obviously I wasn’t here for it. But we just have so much faith in one another. So much faith in coaches. And we just trust everything we’re doing.”

“We’ve been down at half a lot this year actually. We won in overtime twice this tournament. We were down 14 to a 16-seed again," said Guy.
"So everything we’ve been through, it was for a reason. And I’m really happy that we broke through.”

The Cavaliers traveled back to John Paul Jones Arena on Tuesday afternoon with some extra cargo on their flight -- the 2019 NCAA championship trophy.

The team also returned home with redemption.

“I told our guys in the locker room, I said, put your arms around each other, take a look at every guy in here, look at each other. Promise me you won’t let this change you," Bennett said. "It’s a great story. That’s probably the best way I can end this. It’s a great story.”



 
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