Kyle Guy's Resurgence Sparks Virginia to Get Final Four Monkey off Its Back

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2019

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 30:  Kyle Guy #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers celebrates after a three pointer against the Purdue Boilermakers during the second half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 30, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C.  Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Heading into the Elite Eight, junior guard Kyle Guy couldn't find water if he fell out of a boat, hit the broad side of a barn or kick a tire down a hill. The Virginia sharpshooter had simply gone ice-cold.

The top-seeded Cavaliers kept winning anyway.

And under the brightest lights of his career, Guy helped Virginia overcome an absolutely brilliant night from Purdue's Carsen Edwards. As a result, head coach Tony Bennettexactly 10 years from the day he was hired at UVAcan muffle the noise from his biggest critics.

After a half-decade of elite regular-season performances followed by subpar March results and an inglorious history-making upset in the 2018 tournament, Virginia has finally earned a trip to the Final Four.

With one victory, a thrilling 80-75 overtime triumph over Purdue, the story of Virginia basketball has changed dramatically.

Mike Barber @RTD_MikeBarber

#UVA guard Kyle Guy on Tony Bennett and reaching the Final Four: “Not only did we silence his critics, we silenced our own.”

Entering the NCAA tournament, Guy boasted a 46.3 percent three-point clip. Through the Sweet 16, however, he'd connected on just three of 26 attempts and totaled 22 points. To say the first-team All-ACC guard was struggling would be an understatement.

But that's not something he acknowledges.

"I don't believe in slumps," Guy said on TBS following the game. "That's a bad word in my household."

Saturday in Louisville, he was a bad, bad man.

Considering the way he crumpled to the floor late in the first half, his explosive night was also unexpected. Inadvertent contact with a Purdue defender led to Guy rolling his ankle, and he hobbled off the floor. Nevertheless, he returned to carry the Hoos in the second half.

On the opening possession, Guy drained a triple to give Virginia its first lead of the contest.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

First lead of the game for @UVAMensHoops! 👌 #MarchMadness | #Elite8 https://t.co/M9ylmoNSH6

Soon, he buried another. And another. In the second half alone, Guy hit five threesagain, two more than the rest of his NCAA tourney combined. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds.

But as tremendous as Guy's performance was, his explosion only mattered because of the heroics from teammates Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite.

Following a missed free throw with 5.7 seconds left in regulation, Clark chased down Diakite's tip and fired the ball right back to the forward, who tossed up a buzzer-beating equalizer.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

WE'RE HEADING TO OT! 😱 #MarchMADNESS | #Elite8 https://t.co/pmX7SHt35Z

During the extra period, De'Andre Hunter provided the go-ahead layup. One Purdue miss later, Guy buried two clutch free throws before a turnover let Virginia punch its long-awaited ticket.

The school hired Bennett from Washington State in 2009, and he needed a few seasons to retool the program in his image. Bennett finally smashed a barrier in 2013-14 when UVA won 30 games and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in 19 years.

But the results in March only improved once after that.

Other than an Elite Eight berth in 2016, the Hoos bowed out in the Round of 32 twice, and in 2018, they fell to UMBC, becoming the first top-seeded team to lose to a No. 16 seed. For a program winning 29-31 games on a fairly consistent basis, the string of early March departures was deemed unacceptable. Bennett's slow-tempo style constantly took the blame.

It's boring. Won't ever win playing that way in March. Never mind that Loyola-Chicago used an identical philosophy during its memorable 2018 run, Bennett and Virginia can't get it done.

Until they did.

There's no question how much this win mattered to Bennett. The head coach is ordinarily even-tempered—recall his post-UMBC loss press conference, for example―and good at keeping his emotions in check. But upon cutting down the net in Louisville, Bennett unleashed a full-body scream.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

First #FinalFour for Tony Bennett feels GOOD! 👏 #MarchMadness | @UVAMensHoops https://t.co/Z8WxW8aMo5

Finally, he's brought UVA within two games of a national title.

Yes, the high regard for a Final Four appearance is somewhat arbitrary. Today's championship-or-bust sports culture usually doesn't have time to applaud a semifinal run, but reaching the Final Four is, for whatever reason, an exception. Thankfully, this allows us to acknowledge that it's an immensely difficult thing to do.

Regardless of what happens in Minneapolis, the Hoos have accomplished something a Bennett-led team had never done. They put even more distance between themselves, that historic 2018 loss and the half-decade of March frustration before it.

Virginia won't be satisfied with anything less than a championship. Still, thanks to Saturday's win, the sting of those past letdowns isn't quite as painful.

"It's a pretty good 10-year anniversary gift, for sure," Bennett told reporters.

But if Guy continues shooting at that level, the vaunted defense excels and Bennett pushes the right coaching buttons, Virginia's celebration may only be just beginning.


Recruiting information via 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.