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Final Four 2019: Virginia’s Kyle Guy gives foul ending to Auburn’s dream season
Updated at 9:12 a.m. ET
Updated at 9:12 a.m. ET
MINNEAPOLIS — Virginia guard Kyle Guy was alone at the foul line for just an instant, and then he had the company of all those boos from the stands at U.S. Bank Stadium. Thousands, really. And then he was joined along the lane by the majority of Auburn’s players, none of whom had anything to rely on but hope.
After the first connected, Tigers star guard Bryce Brown couldn’t stand to see any more. One was enough. He walked away to a position 10 feet behind the 3-point line and put his hands on his knees, looking nowhere in particular but certainly not at the activity near the goal. It was just as well. Behind him, his team was being eliminated from the 2019 NCAA Final Four, from the possibility to win the national championship that seemed invitingly tangible just a few short seconds before.
It was then the whistle had blown, and everything changed. For the second time in eight days, Virginia endured a near-death experience. Against Purdue in the South Region final, the Cavaliers needed a buzzer-beating, game-tying jumper that developed when freshman guard Kihei Clark chased down a loose ball 55 feet from the goal and passed to forward Mamadi Diakite.
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This time, Guy made three free throws with 0.6 seconds left to present Virginia a 63-62 victory — and a spot in the NCAA championship game.
“I do feel for Auburn, but I feel better for us right now, and I’m just thankful these guys stepped up and played the way we needed to and got through,” UVA coach Tony Bennett told reporters. “Survive and advance, I guess that’s taking on a new meaning.”
What happened? With 1.5 seconds remaining, Virginia was inbounding the ball from the sideline opposite the team benches, after Auburn had spent the second of two fouls it had available to disrupt the Cavaliers’ progress up the court. UVA ran a play designed to get All-American guard Kyle Guy a shot from the near corner. He caught the pass and, given the short amount of time remaining, spun into a 3-point attempt. It did not connect.
There might have been a reason. As Guy launched the shot and descended to the court, Auburn guard Samir Doughty, a 6-4 junior from Philadelphia, crowded into his landing spot. Official James Breeding signaled a foul.
“Foul. Every single time,” a high-major official who worked the NCAA Tournament texted to Sporting News. “No such thing as incidental contact on a jump-shooter. The farther away you are from the basket, the less contact you can absorb without it affecting your shot. … That’s a big-time call.”
It will be controversial because it is rare for a judgment call to impact such an important game so near to its conclusion — though not because the official was incorrect.
“Honestly, I thought it was some BS,” Auburn guard Malik Dunbar said in a quiet Auburn locker room. “I didn’t like it, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
J.D. Collins, the national coordinator for officiating, confirmed the call was correct as called on the court.
“The foul was a violation of Rule 4, Section 39.i, which states, ‘Verticality applies to a legal position and also to both the offensive and defensive players,” Collins said in a statement. “‘The basic components of the principle of verticality are: The defender may not ‘belly up’ or use the lower part of the body or arms to cause contact outside his vertical plane or inside the opponent’s vertical plane.'”
There will be another controversy because of a missed double dribble call as Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome advanced the ball on his team’s final possession. But officials also did not call a clear foul against Auburn before Jerome knocked the ball off his foot and picked it up to commence another dribble.
“We were in a situation late where we had some fouls to give, and I knew there was a disruption there,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl told reporters. “You’ve just got to get on to the next play.”
The locker room stayed closed longer than normal, in part so NCAA selection committee chair Bernard Muir and vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt could speak to the team.
“I just didn’t think it was a foul, but the refs thought otherwise,” Brown said in Auburn’s news conference. “Can’t go back and rewind it so. …”
Pearl declined to be drawn into the debate. It was obvious on the sideline he was frustrated, to say the least, with the decision to assign the foul to Doughty. His expression could be read as a mix of fury, frustration and, ultimately, helplessness.
“My advice, as an administrator of the game, is if that’s a foul, call it. Call it at the beginning of the game, call it in the middle of the game, call it at the end of the game,” Pearl told reporters. “Don’t call it any more or less at any other time during the game. That was the call.
“But it won’t — it can’t define — don’t let it define the game because then you’re taking away from Ty Jerome or you’re taking away from Anfernee McLemore with 12 rebounds, or Bryce Brown almost leading Auburn back to an incredible come-from-behind victory. I’d love that to be the story.”
To an extent, it is. Jerome scored 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting and helped UVA build a 10-point lead with 5:22 remaining before unwisely picking up a fourth personal foul and weakening his team’s defense — and its execution — during the 97 seconds he spent on the bench.
Auburn rallied and took the lead on a series of three long-range jumpers by Brown, who finished with 12 points. When the Cavaliers mismanaged a possession that began with them trailing by two points and 59 seconds remaining, failing to get a 2-for-1 or a quality shot, it looked as though the Tigers were headed to the title game.
This game also was about Virginia All-American De’Andre Hunter attacking for 10 points in the second half after his first 20 minutes too closely resembled his past three mediocre tournament games. And it was about Clark shutting down Auburn’s dynamic point guard, Jared Harper, who scored just 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
In the end, though, the story was Guy, and the opportunity he was presented with the foul call.
We have seen players in this circumstance before. Fouled attempting a 3-pointer, behind by a basket. Three free throws wins the game. Two ties it and sends it to overtime. One wrecks the dream.
Darius Washington of Memphis stood in this same place, so to speak, in the 2005 Conference USA title game. The Tigers needed the victory to enter the NCAA Tournament. He missed two, and wept. Terrell Brown of New Mexico State was there against this same Auburn team, in the first round of the tournament. He missed two, and the Aggies went home. Just last week, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards made two of his three against Tennessee, but the Boilers prevailed in overtime.
As Brown looked elsewhere, mostly into his jersey, Guy made the next two comfortably. There was no rim involved, only the ball and the net.
“These are moments that every basketball player has dreamed of, hitting the game-winning shot or free throws or whatever,” Guy told reporters. “Kind of had that feeling in your stomach, like a good nervousness, like, ‘All right, this is my chance.’”
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