Third-year class the backbone for Cavaliers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The third-year players on this year's Virginia men's basketball team were high school seniors in 2016, the last time the program reached the NCAA's Elite Eight.

And like most everyone else rooting for the Wahoos, they couldn't believe what unfolded that night in Chicago, when UVA let a 16-point lead get away in a 68-62 loss to Syracuse.

“I was just sitting back watching it, thinking at halftime we were going to the Final Four, or I guess they were going to the Final Four," UVA guard Ty Jerome said Friday afternoon. "And all of a sudden that run came, and my jaw kind of dropped.”

“Oof," said redshirt sophomore forward Jay Huff. "I was sitting on the couch, I was watching that, and it was just a bummer really. But I was excited to come in and hopefully go past that.”

Huff and Jerome both arrived on Grounds a few months after that loss, along with guards Kyle Guy and De'Andre Hunter. Now that recruiting class has served as the backbone for the latest UVA team to reach an NCAA regional final.

“They’re what this team is," said UVA freshman guard Kihei Clark. "Really intense, really focused. They’re really locked in, and I think they’ve instilled into the guys on the team what we want to accomplish.”

“Leaders. Scorers. Vocal. Work ethic," said UVA associate head coach Jason Williford. "They do everything.”

Hunter (15.1 ppg), Guy (14.9 ppg) and Jerome (13.0) ppg are the Cavaliers' top three scorers this season. Hunter is second on the team in rebounding (5.0 rpg), while Jerome leads the team in assists (181) and steals (56) and Guy is shooting 42.7 percent from beyond the 3-point line and a team-best 81.9 percent at the free throw line. Huff has averaged 4.7 points in 9.8 minutes off the bench, while shooting 61.1 percent from the floor and 46.7 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

Getting to this point -- UVA will face Purdue on Saturday night at KFC Yum! Center in the championship of the NCAA South Region -- has come with its challenges. Hunter and Huff both redshirted as true freshmen in 2016-17. All four players drew motivation from last year's historic loss to UMBC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

But the group has remained close -- and has been pushing each other -- throughout its three seasons together.

“I knew from the first day," Hunter said on Friday. "We were all so talented. We were all so different in various ways.”

“I think that’s something that has separated this class from other classes around the country is, we’re just maybe overlooked a little bit in different ways," said Guy. "Under-appreciated, and always had that chip on our shoulder.”

Now those UVA third-years have put the program within a win of the third Final Four appearance in school history, and the first since 1984.

“The’ve got each other’s back," said Williford. "And I think they just want to see how far we can go with this thing. It’s fun to see and they’re enjoying this ride. They’re having a good time.”

“Why we came here was, we wanted to win a national championship. After every game or before every game, I tell our team that we’re doing it," said Guy. "And we’re doing everything that we said we came here to do, and just trying to cherish every moment, because it’s exciting.”