Inside the Play: Kihei Clark, Mamadi Diakite, and the shot that saved the UVA Basketball season
Ty Jerome missed the second free throw, with 5.9 seconds left, Virginia down two.
It wasn’t intentional. More on that later.
Mamadi Diakite got his hands on the rebound, tipping it back.
Remember Craig Robinson, tipping a missed free throw back to Ralph Sampson?
That one was smooth. Ralph got that one at the free-throw line.
Actually, this one went back to the free-throw line, just, on the Purdue side of the court.
Kihei Clark, 5’9” water bug that he is, tracked it down with 3.2 seconds to go.
That’s what we had left in UVA’s season of redemption at that stage.
The ‘Hoos had a timeout in their pocket, but this is a scramble play. You’re not thinking timeouts in this kind of situation.
What’s going through Clark’s mind as he turns back upcourt?
“I knew we didn’t have much time,” Clark said.
His options: he could have tried a halfcourt heave.
Or passed the ball to Jerome, to his right, at halfcourt.
Or to Kyle Guy, who was at halfcourt on the left side.
Purdue had scrambled down the floor chasing the ball as well, and inexplicably seemed focused on preventing one of the three halfcourt options.
Again, this is what happens in scramble situations.
This all leaves Jack Salt, standing at the three-point line on the left wing, and Diakite, in the lane, and only Matt Haarms back to defend both.
It happens that Haarms is 7’3”. This almost factors in.
Getting ahead of ourselves there.
Clark, pretty much on Pluto, back in the backcourt, saw Diakite “right away,” and rifled the ball to him, the ball leaving his hands near midcourt with 2.0 seconds left.
What was going through Diakite’s mind?
“I don’t know. It happened,” said Diakite, who caught the pass with right at 1.0 seconds left, about 10 feet from the basket, and released it almost immediately, in the direction of the rim, replays showing it out of his hands, and just over the outstretched arms of Haarms, with two-tenths of a second on the clock.
Divine intervention, if you ask Diakite.
“I was the person who was designed to take it. And I don’t know. I took it, and it went in,” said Diakite, not normally at a loss for words, who found himself, not surprisingly, given the magnitude of the moment, tongue-tied later.
“I don’t know how to talk about it. It was unbelievable. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t know,” Diakite said.
It happened so perfectly that it did indeed seemed to have been some part of design, as Diakite alluded.
Jerome insisted later that he didn’t intentionally miss the second free throw.
“I made the first on purpose,” said Jerome, to laughter in the media room.
Jerome also happened to be at the line at the end of a game a year ago in the very KFC Yum! Center where this one for the ages took place last night, at the scene of another amazing Virginia comeback, from four down with nine-tenths of a second left.
Jerome made the first two of a three-shot foul in that one, against Louisville, then missed the third intentionally, before a lane violation on Virginia, an inbound violation by Louisville, and a buzzer-beating De’Andre Hunter three, sent Virginia home the improbable winner.
Jerome said he just short-armed this one, intending to make the shot to get his team back to within one.
“Mamadi did a good play by hitting it, and Kihei made the play of the century, and Mamadi being ready to shoot. Actually, let me add, he looked me off first or looked Kyle off first and then looked me off. Then he got to Mamadi over here, and he made a great play,” Jerome said.
Jerome, you can see on the replay, is trying to get Clark’s attention to get the ball for a last desperation heave.
UVA coach Tony Bennett was thinking, from the sideline, yeah, that.
“Ty was clapping. I was like, Throw it to Ty. We’ll get one up there,” Bennett said. “Mamadi, to catch it and get it off that quick, so improbable.
“Two years ago, what happened here, we’ve had amazing games here and comebacks. I was almost in shock a little bit.”
Was? How about, still am?
Story by Chris Graham
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