FINAL WORDS ON THE FINAL FOUR
1. In the end, D wins it
No matter the winner Monday night, it was going to be a defensive-oriented team that took home the crown from its trip to Minneapolis. College basketball watchers were bracing for a yawner that could possibly be one of the lowest-scoring title games in the modern era. That seemed to be the case early, when both teams started 1-for-10 from the field. Chris Beard’s team was the most efficient team defensively in the KenPom era entering the game. Still, Virginia’s pack-line D was in peak form, especially late. Four players clogged up the middle to force outside shots. And the Cavaliers used long and mobile interior defenders De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite to hedge and even switch off screens. That frustrated Texas Tech’s biggest scoring threats, Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney, who combined for 9-for-31 shooting, including 2-for-12 from three. You might say the Red Raiders didn’t shoot well, but it was Virginia’s D that caused that.
2. Virginia’s second-half stars
Virginia’s Kyle Guy was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, but that award could easily have gone to Hunter. He scored 27 points in the title game. And just as important, the 6-foot-7 sophomore was a major second-half spark both Saturday and Monday. Hunter was 1-for-8 in the first half Monday, but he scored 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting after halftime. His consecutive three-pointers helped the Cavaliers eventually go up 53-43 midway through the second half. His corner three for the tie at 68-68 with 12.9 left sent the game into overtime. And another Hunter three provided the go-ahead points in the extra period. He finished with a game-high 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting while often hounding Culver. The Red Raiders’ star tried to give them a similar second-half lift. The Big 12 player of the year didn’t start off hot in either Final Four game, going a combined 0-for-15 to open vs. Michigan State and Virginia. He showed some life in the second half but still managed just 5-for-22 shooting and finished with just 15 points. Hunter can be given credit for some of those struggles, with his often-excellent defense.
3. Tech’s team vs. Virginia’s Big Three
NBA teams aren’t the only ones that can rely on a “Big Three” to carry them to a title. Seems like a lot of pressure to put on Guy, Ty Jerome and Hunter, but they delivered on the biggest stage, combining for 67 points Monday. They were the only players to score in double figures for Virginia, which was outscored 29-6 in bench points. Five different players scored in double figures for Texas Tech, but Brandone Francis’ 17 points were the highest total.
4. Cavs clutch at the foul line
Virginia didn’t just shoot well at the foul line Monday night, it basically put on a clinic. The Cavaliers were able to answer Texas Tech’s big shots by driving to the basket and drawing fouls. They shot 20-for-23 for the game on free-throws, but it was their 12-for-12 stripe shooting in overtime that sealed the victory. Guy, Jerome and Diakite were 8-for-8 during one stretch after Texas Tech took a 73-70 lead early in the extra period. Surprisingly, Tony Bennett’s squad really didn’t rely on free throws much in Saturday’s win vs. Auburn, going just 6-for-12 from the line in the 63-62 win, but Guy’s free throws after being fouled on the late three-pointer iced it. That was a sign of things to come.