De’Andre Hunter always has kept an image in his mind of how he wanted a championship game to end. Ball in his hands, clock ticks to zero, buzzer sounds and he flings the ball as high as he possibly can.
“That’s something I always wanted to do,” Hunter said. “It came true.”
It certainly did.
It was fitting that Virginia’s do-everything sophomore guard threw the ball into falling confetti because his fingerprints were all over the school’s first national championship.
Hunter was the best player on the floor — for either team — in helping the Cavaliers complete their redemption tour with an 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech on Monday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The 6-7 Hunter scored a career-high 27 points and displayed lockdown defense on Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver while playing 44-plus minutes in one of the finest all-around NCAA championship game performances in memory.
“I’m not going to lie, I was tired,” Hunter said. “I was exhausted. But it’s the final game of the year so I was going to fight through anything.”
A year ago, he was unable to join the fight because a broken wrist sidelined him for the NCAA tournament. That meant he was forced to watch from the sidelines as Virginia became the first No. 1 seed in tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed, falling to Maryland-Baltimore County.
Hunter’s performance Monday reinforced just how valuable he is to Virginia’s offense and defense. Teammate Kyle Guy earlier in the tournament called Hunter “easily, in my opinion, the second-best player in the country, if not the best.”
Hunter made a strong case Monday night. He already was projected to be an NBA lottery pick this spring, and his stock will soar after showing why he’s considered one of the most versatile players in college basketball.
One 63-second sequence in OT showed Hunter’s impact, and his versatility. His three-pointer with 2:09 left gave Virginia a 75-73 lead. Then, Hunter hustled to create a turnover on a run-out fast break. Hunter caught up to Davide Moretti and knocked the ball out of his hands. Replays ruled that the ball went out of bounds off Moretti.
“I was going to go for the steal,” Hunter said. “I thought I had a chance but I didn’t want to foul him. I just put my hand out. I honestly didn’t think it went off him, but the ref went to the monitor and I guess it did.”
The Cavs didn’t trail after that.
The game featured a matchup of two projected lottery picks, Hunter and Culver. The undisputed winner was Hunter, who, along with his career high in points, collected nine rebounds, made seven of eight shots after halftime, including four three-pointers. He finished 8-for-16 shooting overall.
Culver finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, but nothing came easy. He made only five of his 22 shots, including 0-for-6 from three-point range. The two players had a spirited back-and-forth in the second half, but Hunter got the upper hand. His three-pointer with 14 seconds left in regulation tied the score at 68-68, the final points before overtime.
Hunter’s length bothered Culver. Culver missed all six of his shots before halftime and was unable to find any open space on the floor against the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Culver, the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, entered the game averaging 19 points per game. He had only three points at halftime, all on free throws.
“I knew he’s a great player and all-around scorer,” Hunter said. “I know he likes to attack right so I tried to cut that off.”
Hunter kept attacking on offense himself. He showed his versatility by scoring eight points in a 4½-minute span that included back-to-back three-pointers. Then he made the shot of the night with the three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation.
“What a game he had,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “He was terrific.”