The 35-3 Cavaliers steeled for this showdown while capturing the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season co-championship and time after time winning close games, including in this tournament as they topped Gardner-Webb, Oklahoma, Oregon, Purdue in overtime, as well as Auburn by a point The Cavaliers were clutch when they had to be and they definitely learned from last year's gargantuan mistake.
Hunter was outstanding all game. Hunter, who had just 5 first half points, exploded in the second half and overtime. But this time, they overcame it. "I was aggressive in the first half, but the shots weren't falling. So I just knew we needed each other".
"We embraced it", sophomore forward De'Andre Hunter said.
As for the Red Raiders (31-7), well, what can you say? Even if many lost faith in them. Their defenders were swarming, and the Cavaliers struggled on offense, punctuated by a Guy travel. They iso'd (Hunter), but he hit some big shots. "Mindset was just five-minute game - we practice it every day".
But Virginia was better than that.
Texas Tech outmuscled Michigan State 61-51 in its Final Four game Saturday night, but saw Tariq Owens roll his right ankle in the second half.
Culver should still hover around the top five, especially with Cam Reddish's stumble down the stretch and questions on other prospects. He sank all three free throws to send the Cavaliers to the title game.
The Red Raiders came within four points on a three from senior guard Brandone Francis, but Hunter responded with a three of his own to make it 45-38.
Hunter quietly made his way through the tournament after leading the Cavaliers in scoring (15.6 points) in ACC play.
And what do you know, Tech went on another run and tied the score at 59-59 on a Norense Odiase three-point play with 3:28 to play.
The Cavaliers led 59-53 as Jerome called a timeout with 4:47 to go. Texas Tech came out of nowhere to get to this stage, while Virginia is on the ultimate comeback tour. "He just hit a lot of tough shots". In fact, only one team has scored more than 60 points against the Red Raiders during the NCAA Tournament. "The Red Raiders went on to upset the Aggies, and we just kind of kept on doing it before games after that".
It made for a cocktail that was both sweet and intoxicating. Dre' (Hunter) made (Culver) work to get shots.
For a team that has been asked ad nauseam about avenging last year's first-round loss to 16-seed UMBC, it seems fitting that Hunter's redemption story would take place in the final game of the season.
It's tempting to call Virginia a team of destiny, but that would undermine what the Cavaliers accomplished this season. Four-fifths of the starting lineup from 2018's Elite Eight team was gone. "The game was everything we thought it would be".
The Virginia Cavaliers don't deserve to be in the national title game. "When that horn went off, I just put my head down and said, 'Thank You". "'That, I think, has prepared you for this moment to be able to handle the pressure or the intensity of a national championship game.' And these guys stepped up".
Still trying to process the title, junior guard Jerome said, "Forget previous year, this is everything you dream of since you're a little kid".
"Wow, 5 of 22", Virginia coach Tony Bennett said afterward.