Kyle Guy glanced into the crowd before stepping to the free-throw line for the biggest moment of his athletic career. He was trying to find his fiancé, Alexa, but couldn’t see her.
“She’s too short,” he noted.
Instead, he locked eyes with his dad, Joe. They exchanged a quick look that said we got this.
Guy felt a tingling sensation in his stomach, a “good nervousness” that only someone in that situation could fully understand.
His Virginia team trailed by two points in the Final Four semifinals. Sixth-tenths left on the clock, three free throws, 70,000 fans on their feet inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
A young man who hit bottom emotionally a year ago toed the free-throw line, nerves racing but the picture of calm on the outside.
“These are moments that every basketball player has dreamed of,” Guy said.
His dream became reality.
Guy made all three free throws to send the Cavaliers into the national championship game with a 63-62 victory over Auburn in a game that had controversy, dramatic swings and clutch shooting by a player who ended last season on the opposite end of the emotion spectrum.
“I don’t really have the words for how I feel,” Guy said. “I’ve been pinching myself the whole time I’ve been in Minneapolis because it just doesn’t really feel real.”
A year ago, Guy buried his head in his jersey, tears filling his eyes, after Virginia became the first No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed, Maryland-Baltimore County.
Guy was so distraught that he had to be helped off the court by a teammate. He was inconsolable in his family’s hotel room that night.
Guy subsequently shared publicly that he had been dealing with anxiety issues and had suffered several panic attacks. He described his life as being in a “dark place” after the UMBC loss.
“When I was crying last year when we lost, I told myself ‘never again,’ ” he said.
The Cavaliers nearly scripted an even worse ending Saturday. Leading by 10 points with 5½ minutes left, they found themselves down by four with 17 seconds left.
It doesn’t end like this,Guy told himself.
He made sure of it. Guy made a three-pointer from the corner with seven seconds left to give Virginia hope.
Auburn made one free throw and then controversy ensued. Virginia’s Ty Jerome wasn’t called for a double-dribble before being fouled, giving the Cavs the ball along the sideline with 1.5 seconds left.
The play was designed to get Guy a three-pointer in the corner. He only had time for a catch-and-shoot.
He caught the inbounds pass, elevated and released. Miss.
Guy reacted by burying his face in his jersey.
Wait. A whistle. Foul call. Guy’s defender, Samir Doughty, had bumped his legs in midair.
Auburn’s bench howled with anger. Virginia’s erupted with joy.
Virginia guard De’Andre Hunter saw Guy pulling his jersey over his face and quickly asked him if he’d heard the whistle.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Guy responded.
Guy said he knew he was fouled and reacted that way to start getting his mind right to shoot free throws.
Was it a foul?
“I felt like there was no way I was going to land,” he said. “He was in my space. I think they made the right call, in my opinion. Auburn is going to think otherwise. I’ve been in their shoes before.”
Being in Guy’s shoes at that moment was not for the faint of heart. He made his first two free throws to tie the game. Auburn called a timeout to set up a final heave, hoping for a miracle.
Guy didn’t join Virginia’s huddle on the sideline during the timeout.
“I didn’t want anything to do with my teammates or my coaches at that time,” Guy said. “I wanted to be in my own space. I knew they had confidence in me.”
He drained the third free throw. His dad was right.
He’s got this.