By Ralph D. Russo
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — From one-and-done to NCAA Tournament miracle men, Virginia will play in the national championship game for the first time after pulling off another last-second stunner on a disputed foul with 0.6 seconds left.
Kyle Guy made three free throws as debate immediately started over the call and Virginia celebrated its second straight can-you-believe-it play, beating Auburn 63-62 Saturday in the Final Four.
A year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, these top-seeded Cavaliers now look like destiny’s team. They will face either Michigan State or Texas Tech on Monday night.
The Cavaliers (34-3) reached the Final Four for the first time since 1984 with a wild buzzer-beater by Mahmadi Diakite to send their Elite Eight game against Purdue to overtime.
Beating the Tigers took an even crazier finish.
The fifth-seeded Auburn (30-10) had erased a 10-point deficit in the final five minutes and led 61-60 after Guy made an off-balance 3 with 7.6 seconds left. The shot snapped a drought of more than five minutes by the Cavaliers, who then sent Jared Harper to the line with 7 seconds left.
Harper made one and Auburn, with fouls to give, did so twice. On one of them, it looked as if Ty Jerome might have double-dribbled into a decisive turnover. But there was no whistle.
“We knew there was a disruption,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said of the possible missed call.
With 1.5 seconds left and in need of some magic, Virginia got the ball to Guy in the corner. He turned and fired and Samir Doughty, hands straight up in the air, bumped into Guy’s hip. The shot bounced off the rim. Game over? Auburn started to celebrate and the PA announcer in U.S. Bank Stadium even announced the Tigers had won.
Guy pulled his jersey over his face. But not in angst. He said he knew it wasn’t over.
“I heard (the official) him call it right away,” Guy said. “That was me focusing.”
When the whistle blew, Pearl lost it on the sideline, pumping his fist and screaming.
“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” said Bryce Brown, who led the Auburn comeback with three 3s in the final 4:30. “It’s not why we lost the game. I just didn’t agree with the call.”
Pearl said he didn’t want the final call to define a great game, but he did say the officials seemed to be letting physical play go throughout the game. So, he asked, why not then?
Guy swished the first two free throws to tie it and Auburn called a timeout to ice him. Didn’t work. He hit one more for the lead.
“I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special,” Guy said.
Auburn threw a long inbound pass to Brown, but his desperation 3 was short.
The Cavaliers mobbed Guy on one end. Brown sat on the court, head hanging on the other. Auburn, in the Final Four for the first time, had its season end in a most painful way.
Jerome scored 21 points for Virginia and De’Andre Hunter had 10 of his 14 in a stellar second half.
Doughty led Auburn with 13 and Brown had 12 for Auburn, which nearly beat Virginia at its own game — with tough defense and big shots in the halfcourt.
But the team that made UMBC a household name — at least for a little while — in the first round of last year’s tournament would not be denied. It has been Virginia’s cross to bear all season. Even after beating Auburn.
“I feel like I get asked this question every single round, every round we advance, and every round I say the same thing almost,” Jerome said, “and it feels a little bit sweeter, a little bit sweeter.”
Then Guy said: “Not much to add. Just you guys can ask that question again on Monday.”