MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For the second time in two years, Virginia looked headed for a crushing exit from the NCAA Tournament.
One whistle, one slight bump and three clutch free throws changed everything.
Kyle Guy hit three free throws with 0.6 seconds left to help the Cavaliers beat Auburn 63-62 in a wild and disputed finish Saturday night in the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s the result of a play that will be long discussed, with official James Breeding whistling Samir Doughty for a bump on Guy’s desperation 3-point shot with No. 1 seed Virginia facing elimination before the final.
Doughty’s torso made contact with Guy’s right thigh as he elevated for the twisting shot. Guy’s shot bounced off the rim as the horn sounded in what appeared to be an Auburn win. Guy even began to cover his face with his jersey as the shot missed, thinking his season was over.
It took a few seconds before it was clear there had been a foul call, prompting a wave of stunned cheers from Virginia fans and furious boos from Auburn supporters.
“NCAA needs to get some new refs,” Auburn guard Bryce Brown said after.
Guy made the first two free throws to tie it, then came out of an Auburn timeout to hit the third and put Virginia ahead.
The Tigers’ final heave downcourt for a desperation catch-and-shoot 3 from Brown wasn’t close.
This time, however, it was the end.
Virginia players mobbed Guy on the court and Cavaliers fans celebrated wildly, continuing their rise from the rubble following an unprecedented 16-vs-1 upset loss to UMBC last season.
Auburn fans, however, were irate.
Auburn assistant coach Steven Pearl, son of head coach Bruce Pearl, ran part of the way across the court after the buzzer, shouting at the officials before departing. The officials soon sprinted off to the tunnel for their exit amid a few obscene gestures and insults hurled their way from the nearby Auburn student section, where shock had given way to fury.
Police escorted away a few of the most unruly fans.
Others walked away from floor seats with tears at the end of a wild tournament run that had seen the fifth-seeded Tigers take down bluebloods Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in succession to reach their first Final Four.
Yet that tournament run very nearly ended in the first round with an eerily similar foul call.
It was in Salt Lake City where Auburn fouled a 3-point shooter for New Mexico State while protecting a slim lead with 1.1 seconds left. That time, though, Terrell Brown missed two of three free throws to help Auburn survive 78-77.
The foul happened again. This time, the free throws fell through to end the Tigers’ romping ride.