The whistle had been blown. The redemption tour was over. Public Address announcer Gene Honda began to give a final score. The Virginia Cavaliers were heading home after a devastating national semifinal loss to the Auburn Tigers.
That is, until they weren’t.
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With 0.6 seconds to play and the Cavaliers trailing by two points, Auburn junior guard Samir Doughty closed out on Virginia junior guard Kyle Guy’s 3-point attempt from the left corner in what seemed sure to be the final play of the game.
But just as the noise from the crowd of 72,711 began to swell within U.S. Bank Stadium and the Tigers were ready to mob each other in celebration, Doughty was charged with a foul, the moment that changed the fortunes of two unforgettable seasons.
“Correction,” Honda said.
Doughty, arms extended skyward, had made contact with Guy’s right side on the release, knocking him backward. Official James Breeding made the call that gave Guy three free throws and a sudden, shocking chance to regain the lead. Guy’s three free throws gave Virginia a 63-62 victory that advanced the Cavaliers to the national championship game against Texas Tech.
“I heard him [the referee] call it right away,” said Guy. “They were asking me did I know, because I put my face into my jersey, but that was me focusing. I knew they called a foul. I knew that I got behind the line for three shots because I practiced that. I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special.”
J.D. Collins, the national coordinator of officiating, said in a statement to the United States Basketball Writers Association that Breeding “ruled that Doughty moved into the airborne shooter, making contact with Guy while taking away his landing spot. 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. 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.’”
Doughty, when asked about the foul, said, “They (the officials) do a great job at reffing and they’re trying to the best of their ability to make the right call. I can’t question none of that.”
He had prepared for that moment, studying video of Guy and Ty Jerome that had revealed a pattern. Doughty had discovered that Guy and Jerome “like to kick their legs out when they shoot, so I just tried to be right there, let him shoot the ball and whatever happens, happens. He just hit a three the play before and I played defense the same exact way. I’m not really sure why they called that call, but I’m pretty sure the refs made the right decision.”
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said his response after the game was to focus on how his team would handle the defeat.
“My advice, as an administrator of the game, is if that’s a foul, call it,” Pearl said. “Call it at the beginning of the game. Call it in the middle of the game. Call it at the end of the game. Don’t call it any more or less at any other time during the game.”
Auburn junior forward Anfernee McLemore said he was trying to block out Virginia junior forward Mamadi Diakite underneath. “I saw the shot out of the corner and it looked like a clean miss,” McLemore said. “I grabbed the rebound and I saw the ref put his hand up with three fingers.”
While McLemore and Auburn questioned the foul, Tiger coach Bruce Pearl shouted as he walked back toward his bench with boos raining down.
Cavaliers junior guard Braxton Key knew the call was the right one. “It’s a foul,” he said. “.I mean, the ref called it…They called it and God’s on our side, I guess.”
Key was convinced the outcome was certain as soon as Guy lined up for the free throws that would send Virginia to the championship game.
“Yeah [I thought it was over], for sure,” Key said in the Virginia locker room. “We all trust Kyle. I mean, he’s one of the best free throw shooters on the team, so we have confidence in him. We knew he was gonna make all three.”
Sophomore guard Marco Anthony shared Key’s feelings about Virginia’s odds.
“No, the game’s never over until the final whistle,” said Anthony. “I knew Kyle had our back. I was more than confident--I’ve never seen him miss a free throw to be honest. Especially in the big moments like that, I knew he was gonna make them.”
Guy, an 81.8% foul shooter, was going to the line.
“These are the moments that every basketball player has dreamed of, hitting the game-winning shot or free throws or whatever,” said Guy. “You kind of had that feeling in your stomach, like a good nervousness, like, alright, this is my chance.”
"To still be playing at this point in the season on the stage that you dreamed of as a little kid is an unreal feeling and we are going to do everything we can to finish the job." - Ty Jerome 🔶⚔️🔷 #GoHoos #FinalFour pic.twitter.com/WusQtnN60q— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) April 7, 2019
There was a brief delay as the officials reset the time to 0.6 seconds. In the huddle, Cavaliers like Key knew better than to interrupt Guy’s train of thought after one of the most controversial calls in Final Four history.
“We tried to stay away from Kyle,” Key said. “We just let him get his space, get in his own head. No one tried to hype him up or anything, it was big for him to make all three free throws.”
Guy made the first to bring the Cavaliers within a point.
He made the second for the tie, and the Virginia crowd roared.
After a timeout, he made the third for a lead.
Soon the game was over, and the boos were coming down, and Guy couldn’t quite sum up the overwhelming feelings swirling around him.
“To be able to go to the national championship off of that and for these guys and Coach Bennett,” he said, “I mean, I really don’t have the words.”
Zach Griffith is a student in the M.A. program in Sports Journalism at IUPUI and part of the Sports Capital Journalism Program.