Virginia coach Tony Bennett led the school to its first-ever national championship Monday night, but he didn’t want the credit.
He thanked his players. He thanked his family. And he thanked God. He even credited a contemporary Christian song for inspiring the team.
The Cavaliers defeated Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime in the NCAA men’s basketball championship, completing an improbable run that saw them win their last three games in nail-biting fashion.
“I played a song for them today called Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells, and it just means that you're never alone in the hills or the valleys,” Bennett said during a post-game CBS interview. “And we've faced those from last year to this year, but the credit goes to these young men. And I can't wait to celebrate with my wife and my kids and my parents. I do want to thank the Lord and my Savior.”
Bennett is an outspoken Christian who nearly became a pastor before going into coaching. He has built Virginia into a national powerhouse, although the Cavaliers needed near-miraculous finishes in their last three games. On Monday, a late three-pointer by De'Andre Hunter forced overtime. In the semifinals, they needed three free throws by Kyle Guy with less than one second left to edge Auburn. In the Elite Eight, Virginia would have lost if not for a buzzer-beating shot by Mamadi Diakite in regulation against Purdue.
Bennett acknowledged the team “had some amazing plays.”
“We have a saying,” he said, that “the most faithful wins, and these guys stayed so faithful.”
“This is about the young men,” he added. “They made the plays, they did this stuff. Coaches get too much credit when it goes well and they get too much blame when it goes bad. These young men deserve this championship. I'm so happy.”
One year ago, Virginia was humbled in the first round as it became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. Bennett has labeled the loss a blessing that helped the team grow.
“Going through those refining moments – they're tough,” he said earlier in the tournament, “but you look back at them, and in a way they're sometimes painful gifts that draw you nearer to what truly matters.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Streeter Lecka/Staff