MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Texas Tech and Virginia are each going for their first national titles backed by hard-nosed defenses that were among the best in the nation.
Virginia (34-3) the standard-bearer in lockdown basketball. The Cavaliers are going against the new kids on the defensive block, the Texas Tech Red Raiders (31-6).
The over/under for points is 118. The over/under on bruises may be higher.
The result will give the NCAA Tournament its first first-time champion since coach Billy Donovan won it all with Florida in 2006.
Texas Tech reached the Elite Eight for the first time last season and Virginia lost its previous two trips to the Final Four, in 1981 and 1984.
The last time two teams who had never won a championship played in the title game was Michigan State against Indiana State in 1979. That’s right, Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.
The game Monday night tips at 9:20 p.m.
Rafting trip helped UVA get past historic loss
Virginia’s road to this national championship game hit quite the pothole last year with the historic loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round. The Cavaliers endured yet more turbulence over the summer, in the form of a team-building whitewater rafting trip on the New River organized by coach Tony Bennett.
“Some of our guys were scared to death,” Bennett said, singling out guard De’Andre Hunter.
Center Mamadi Diakite fell in that category, too, when Bennett sneaked under water and grabbed his leg, uncertain what lurked beneath the surface.
After the previous season ended so startlingly, the Cavaliers brought into the fall a strong bond from such a painful experience. The rafting trip further strengthened those ties.
“The coaches looked sort of like players. We could interact and have fun. That hierarchy wasn’t here,” Diakite said. “We were just playing around.”
When Bennett addressed the team before the Purdue game in the South regional final, pondering the journey that took them to the verge of the Final Four, he teared up as he spoke. Bennett thought back to that summer day when he wondered what the coming year would bring.
“It was the most beautiful setting just floating down the river with these guys,” Bennett said.
— Dave Campbell reporting from Minneapolis