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A year after first-round nightmare, Virginia reaches Final Four dream



LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For someone as calm as Tony Bennett appears on the sideline, Saturday night gave him a chance to let loose.

With chants of "To-ny! To-ny!" Building in the Virginia cheering section, the Virginia head coach climbed the ladder leading to one of the baskets at the KFC Yum! Center and proceeding to make the final snip of the net.

On the 10th anniversary of his marriage at Virginia, Bennett and the Cavaliers finally got out over the hump: They are going to the Final Four after outlasting Purdue in overtime 80-75 in one of the greatest NCAA tournament games of all time.

It's the first Final Four for the program since 1984 and Tony and his father, Dick, only the second father-son duo to reach the Final Four as head coaches.

"I've always dreamed of coaching in a Final Four," Bennett said after the game. I think thinking, 'I think I want to do this. This seems [easy]' ̵

1; I didn ' t had how hard it was, but I have not had it, I have not had it, but I have not had it, but I have not had it, but I have not had it beyond, yeah, it feels really good. "

Tony Bennett has Virginia in the Final Four for the first time since 1984. Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports

An hour earlier, however, Bennett's stoic had demeanor once again disappeared momentarily – but that time, it was not out of excitement. It was because another Final Four opportunity for Virginia seemed to be slipping away. Purdue guard Carsen Edwards makes one of the best individual games in NCAA tournament history, scoring 42 points and making 10 [3-pointers in a performance that will make him record books.]

And after Edwards made his 10th Bennett admitted he's tore up his play card.

"He made me rip my play card in half, "Bennett said.

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    Edwards' historic outing looked to be good enough to move on. "Purdue to Minneapolis Bennett and Virginia.

    The Boilermakers, guarding a three-point lead in the final seconds, fouled Ty Jerome with a free throw line for a one-and-one opportunity. Jerome made the first and missed the second, but Mamadi Diakite tipped the ball out, and freshman guard Kihei Clark retrieved it in the backcourt. Instead of forcing up a half-court desperation shot, Clark fired a one-handed, 40-foot pass to Diakite, who made a short jumper at the buzzer.

    "I do not know how to explain it," Diakite said. "I just saw the ball coming to me, I made it up my mind. You gotta be ready, last shot, make it a good one. And do not be nervous." I went it. "

    In overtime, Edwards hit another jumper to give Purdue a try in the final minute, but De'Andre Hunter responded with a layup, and the Cavaliers hit the door with free throws after potential tying shot.

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    Mamadi Diakite comes up with clutch as he drills a 2-point jumper at the buzzer to deliver the game to overtime.

    Virginia celebrated; the sadness of last season's shocking first-round loss turned into jubilation. The ultimate redemption story.

    "You think of all the guys that came before us and just those teams that were so close and you just saw it difficult to get to the Final Four," Jerome said. "And how many times Coach Bennett has been a 1-seed or a 2-seed and has had so much regular-season success ?, to be the team that gets him to the Final Four believed in every single one of us. "He's our best interest at heart, on and off the court."

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    Bennett has heard it all. Even if he is does not pay attention to the detractors, he knows they exist. Bennett's slow-it-down, grind-it-out style does not work in March, that Virginia does not recruit enough future NBA players to get to a Final Four, that's Virginia chokes in the NCAA tournament. [19659002] And although there are still a few out there – just look at social media – they're now going to a little noisy moving forward.

    Bennett will not say it. But his players will.

    "Not only did we silence his critics, we silenced our own," junior guard Kyle Guy said.


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    1:29

    Jay Williams was impressed by Carsen Edwards' It's been 379 days ago when Virginia suffered the most embarrassing loss in NCAA tournament history, one of the most infamous losses in college basketball history. The Cavaliers became the first 1-seed to loose to a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, getting blown out by UMBC 74-54.

    Some coaches would never mention the loss again. Some coaches would bury the tape, chalk it up as a bad day and move on. But Bennett steered into it. He wanted to make sure the program is owned, from him to his staff to the players.

    "It's really important to deal with it."

    "It's really important to deal with it," Bennett told ESPN in October. "I think if you just sweep it under the rug and act like it was a fluke or did not happen, I think that's a mistake."

    So in the program, it's a talking point. In the outside world, among media and fans, it was even louder. Opposing fan bases made chants referencing it. Duke students even tried UMBC point guard K.J. Maura to attend the Blue Devils' game against Virginia. Sixteen straight wins to start the season did not stop it, nor did Bennett's fourth ACC regular-season championship in six seasons.

    Everyone was waiting for the Virginia from March 16, 2018, to surface again.

    "The seed of doubt is always there, "Dick Bennett said after Saturday's game. … He heard from so many coaches who understood the hollowness you experience in that and he understood it would be on every one of them. I think it made them stronger. "

    Successfully bouncing back from losing to a 16-seed makes it a little bit easier. A 14-point deficit to 16-seed Gardner-Webb in this year's NCAA tournament turned into a 15-point win; the Cavaliers held Oregon without a field goal for the final five-plus minutes in the Sweet 16; and they overcame a "performance for the age" from Edwards – and a 10-point, first-half deficit – to beat Purdue.

    "Nobody understands what did it through last year." Nobody does, "Jerome said.

    They are not expecting people to forget the UMBC loss, though.

    "The fact that it has happened is part of our story," Bennett said before the season.

    And now the story has a new chapter – with a Final Four in Minneapolis.


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