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Chris Tomasson | St. Paul Pioneer Press | April 5, 2019

Virginia's Mamadi Diakite is a college basketball celebrity after hitting that buzzer-beater

Virginia's road to redemption continues into Minneapolis

Mamadi Diakite walked into one of his classes at the University of Virginia earlier this week just as he had many times before. Suddenly, things were no longer routine.

After Diakite sat down, his classmates gave him a standing ovation.

"I'm trying to come in and sit and work and I want to learn and people are standing," Diakite said Thursday. "It was a little weird."

There was plenty of reason for the applause. Last Saturday in the South Region final in Louisville, Kentucky, he hit a dramatic 12-foot floating shot at the buzzer to tie Virginia's game against Purdue at 70-70. The Cavaliers eventually won 80-75 in overtime, sending them to this week's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Watch: Classic ending to Virginia vs Purdue

Diakite's life has changed in a hurry. He has been stopped countless times to pose for photos. On Thursday, after the Cavaliers arrived for a practice in preparation for Saturday's semifinals against Auburn, CBS analyst and hall of famer Grant Hill came over to say he was proud of him.

The 6-9 forward only can imagine how popular he will be when he gets back to his native Guinea. Diakite has spoken to people in the West Africa nation.

WATCH: The UVA volleyball team recreated Diakite's buzzer beater, and totally nailed it

"In Guinea, my family and some old teammates told me, (his shot is) all over Africa," said Diakite, 22, who came to the U.S. when he was 15 to play high school basketball. "The news is talking about it. It's a great thing to come to the Final Four. It's an honor to them. ... My cousins told me if I ever go back there, the whole population would welcome me home, which is very amazing."

Diakite got plenty of help from Cavaliers point guard Kihei Clark in one of the most dramatic plays in college basketball history. With Virginia trailing 70-68 and 5.9 seconds left in regulation, Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome stepped to the free-throw line for the second of two attempts after having made the first.

Jerome wasn't trying to miss, but he clanged his attempt off the front of the rim. Diakate swatted the ball across midcourt and it was retrieved by Clark 70 feet from the basket. The freshman calmly dribbled for 10 feet, and threw a bullet pass to Diakite, who hit a 12-footer from the right elbow over 7-foot-3 Boilermakers center Matt Haarms.

"It's the best assist I've seen in college basketball," said Jim Nantz of CBS, who will handle play-by-play for the 29th straight year at the Final Four. "I can't think of anything that compares to it, and good for Mamadi to hit the shot. That's not something that's easy to do, and that's not his strength, but it was a tremendous moment."

Indeed it was. Diakite was asked Thursday how many times he has watched it.

"I don't know anymore," he said. "I lost count at 45."

Travel down Virginia's road to the Final Four

While Diakite ended up being the hero, he at first thought he might be the goat.

"I thought I had tapped it out too far (on the free-throw rebound) and I thought it was going to be the cause for us to lose," he said.

But Clark came to the rescue. Diakite said he "went from zero to 100 miles an hour" to get the ball.

"It was an unreal play, and it saved our season," Jerome said.

FINAL FOUR: 19 reasons to love this year's group

And now Diakite is suddenly well known in college basketball. This despite the fact he has modest averages of 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game during the regular season. He he is averaging 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in four NCAA tournament games.

Perhaps helping his sudden fame is having dyed his hair in Dennis Rodman fashion. Diakite said he started doing it about a month ago when his girlfriend was going to dye her hair and he thought about how he had once done it while playing soccer in Guinea.

Diakite's hair was blond for the game against Purdue. Now, he's dyed it platinum for the Final Four.

"At first, it was just a different look but people told me to keep it up because they can notice me," he said. "It was like, 'Cool, I'm going to do it.' "

Virginia coach Tony Bennett has no issues with Diakite's new look.

"It's like Samson, and if he's got to do it, so be it," Bennett said.

Bennett said Diakite has been "the toast of the town" since his winning shot. Clark also has been getting plenty of recognition.

"You get a lot of pictures on campus and stuff like that," he said.

There is one thing, though, that Clark hasn't gotten.

"I haven't had any standing ovations," he said.

This article is written by Chris Tomasson from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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