The camera panned to that old Virginia icon of unfulfilled promise, and Ralph Sampson obliged.
The retired star who once towered over college basketball, but never reached a national championship game, pumped his arm in the second half Monday night on the video scoreboard inside U.S. Bank Stadium, and the crowd roared.
He turned to point at the fans behind him swathed in orange and black, and the roars intensified.
Meanwhile, in the lower section of the arena behind the Texas Tech bench, a fan hoisted a sign reading, “UVA Makes Big Comeback,” with the first letter in each word outlined in black and spelling UMBC. That would be the acronym for the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the 16th-seeded team that dealt the Cavaliers a historic loss last season in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Virginia will be remembered for its epic failures no more.
Confetti fell on the Cavaliers after a classic championship game that far exceeded expectations for offensive firepower. Virginia got off the final rounds in an 85-77 overtime victory over Texas Tech, Cavaliers guard De’Andre Hunter cradling the ball in his hand and flinging it high into the air in the final seconds.
“We have a saying, ‘The most faithful wins,’” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said on the court after the game, “and these guys stayed so faithful.”
The belief ran especially deep in Hunter, who wasn’t part of his team’s blowout loss to Maryland Baltimore County last season because of an injury. He practically carried the top-seeded Cavaliers (35-3) to their first national title with 27 points and nine rebounds. Hunter’s corner three-pointer with 12 seconds left in regulation tied the score and forced overtime.
“It’s unbelievable,” Hunter said after Virginia became only the fourth team to win a title the year after losing in the first round. “Especially with what happened last year and losing in the first round. We talked about this all season and it happened.”
Things were leaning heavily in Texas Tech’s direction early in the extra period. Red Raiders guard Matt Mooney hit a three-pointer and a turnaround jumper, triggering a dull roar of “Moooooooooo!” from the Texas Tech fans among the crowd of 72,062.
They were the last meaningful baskets Texas Tech (31-7) made. Virginia countered with an 11-0 run that included a Hunter three-pointer from the corner. The Red Raiders were trailing by only two when Texas Tech was initially awarded possession of a ball that went out of bounds with 1:06 left, but a replay showed that Red Raiders guard Davide Moretti had scraped the ball with a finger.
Virginia’s Ty Jerome was fouled on the resulting possession and made two free throws, continuing his team’s run.
Virginia fans sensed the inevitable in the final minute, chanting “U-V-A!” every time a Cavalier stepped to the foul line. The Cavaliers made 20 of 23 free throws for the game, including all 12 in overtime.
Kyle Guy was selected the most outstanding player of the Final Four after adding 24 points for Virginia, including a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left that were far less pressure-packed than the three he had made with six-tenths of a second left to beat Auburn in the semifinals.
Brandone Francis scored 17 points to lead five Texas Tech players in double figures, but the Red Raiders made only 10 of 30 three-point attempts.
Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens was in the starting lineup as usual but finished with only three points while nursing a high-ankle sprain that briefly knocked him out of the Red Raiders’ semifinal against Michigan State.
“In the normal basketball season, he would not have played tonight,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “Tariq is a no-excuse guy.”
The game was so much back-and-forth fun that Beard waved his arms and clapped his hands over his head in the final minutes of regulation, savoring the moment after the Red Raiders had erased a 10-point deficit. His team had a chance to prevail in the final seconds of regulation, but Jarrett Culver missed a three-pointer and Virginia’s Braxton Key blocked Culver’s turnaround jumper at the buzzer.
The game would continue to trend in the Cavaliers’ direction in the season’s final game, one year after everything had fallen apart in the first round.
“That’s a dark path, a dark place that I think a lot of us were in,” Guy said. “It was humiliation, embarrassment for ourselves and our families and the program.
“To be able to redeem all that and get this program something that’s never happened before is all that I could ever want.”