Virginia Cavailers

After historic season, Virginia's Tony Bennett named AP Coach of the Year

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USA TODAY Sports

After historic season, Virginia's Tony Bennett named AP Coach of the Year

SAN ANTONIO -- Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn't going to waver from his foundation, whether it's the philosophy that built the Cavaliers into a contender or the big-picture perspective that helps him handle the sting of a historically improbable loss.

Both ends of that approach are fully on display now as he is named The Associated Press men's college basketball coach of the year.

Bennett won the honor Thursday after his Cavaliers set a program single-season record for wins, dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the Ralph Sampson era. Yet that wildly successful season ended abruptly in the most unexpected way: with the Cavaliers falling to UMBC to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed in NCAA Tournament history.

"They experienced things a lot of guys don't," Bennett said in an interview with the AP. "That kind of success? Oh my gosh. And then that kind of loss? ... But again, their body of work deserves to be celebrated.

"And then so much of what society looks at -- it begs the question -- is it just about how you do in March? Or is it about the whole thing? It's a fair debate (on) what matters. But I told them: I wouldn't trade this team for anything. Even the experiences, as hard as they are, this is part of the process."

Bennett was the runaway winner for the award, which is being presented at the Final Four. He earned 50 of 65 votes from AP Top 25 writers with ballots submitted before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee's Rick Barnes was second with five votes after leading the Volunteers to 26 wins and an NCAA bid despite being picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was third with four votes.

This marks the second time Bennett has won the award, the other coming in 2007 when he was at Washington State.

In Bennett's ninth season, the Cavaliers (31-3) went from being picked to finish sixth in the ACC to winning the regular-season race by four games -- the first to win the ACC by that wide a margin since 2000. It then won the ACC Tournament to complete a 20-1 run against league opponents.

MORE NCAA: BEST BUZZER BEATERS IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY

Virginia also reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 1982 and stayed there the final five weeks of the regular season, the last two unanimously.

And yet, the 48-year-old coach knows much of the focus will be on how things ended: that 74-54 loss to the Retrievers while playing without ACC sixth man of the year De'Andre Hunter.

Dealing with a roster of players in pained disbelief, Bennett said he has told them that they have "an unbelievable captive audience" waiting to see how they would handle it.

"I said how you respond to this will matter to your mom and dads, to your brothers, your sisters, your friends," Bennett said. "If they see that you're not fake about it, that yeah, of course you're going to be discouraged and down after a loss like that, but that you're OK. You can live with it.

"I said: you don't know the power that that's going to have in their life and in your life."

Bennett said he appreciated other coaches offering support, which included Syracuse Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim noting: "If I could hire a coach in this country and I could get Tony Bennett, there would be nobody in second place."

He said he's still reviewing what worked and what didn't, but "certainly you don't overreact" by changing everything that had brought the Cavaliers to this point.

This is, after all, a program that has been a 1-seed three times in the past five seasons with three ACC regular-season titles.

And Bennett won't be deterred from chasing more, even if it means stumbling a few more times on the way to reaching his goals.

"You better have something beyond the opinion of man or just how you feel, because this stuff is fleeting," Bennett said.

"So that's where obviously my faith is everything to me. You hear people talk about their faith in the lord and the relationship with the people that they care about, their family and their trusted friends. Those things stand the test of time. And that's what you have to draw from. And then you move on."

South Carolina cruises past Virginia in second round of women's NCAA Tournament

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USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina cruises past Virginia in second round of women's NCAA Tournament

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley watched once more as All-American A'ja Wilson took control of a victory and whispered to an assistant, "How are we going to replace '22?'"

Fortunately for Staley, she doesn't have to find out the answer yet after Wilson, No. 22, had 25 points and 11 rebounds in her last-ever college home game to lead the Gamecocks to a fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16 with a 66-56 over No. 10 seeded Virginia in the women's NCAA Tournament's Albany Regional on Sunday night.

Wilson, the three-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, posted her 23rd double-double of the season and 53rd of her career for the Gamecocks (28-6).

"At the end of the game when I got subbed out that's when it sank in, this is my last time here," Wilson said. "My last time here in this uniform."

RELATED: MARYLAND WOMEN STIFLED IN SECOND ROUND

And the second-seeded Gamecocks needed every one of Wilson's points to push past Virginia (19-14).

Up 30-25 at the half, South Carolina opened up a 12-point lead in the third period before the Cavaliers cut it to 46-40 with 10 minutes left. Virginia still trailed just 52-47 after Dominique Toussaint's driving bucket with 6:39 to play.

That's when Doniyah Cliney hit a high-arching 3-pointer from the right corner and Wilson added two short jumpers to put the Gamecocks in front by double digits. Virginia could not respond.

Wilson came out of the game for good with 34.5 seconds left to a standing ovation from the late-night crowd. She hugged head coach Dawn Staley before standing on the sidelines and gabbing with the training staff as time ticked away.

After a quick TV interview, Wilson danced her way around the Colonial Life Arena, waving to adoring fans -- there were 10,037 for Staley's late-night pajama party -- and stopping in front of the pep band to dance some more before running to embrace her parents.

"This has been a great four years," said Wilson, whose family is about 30 minutes from campus in Hopkins. "This is my home and, hopefully, when I return, we'll have the same energy."

Wilson added three of her team's five blocks and three assists in her final game on her home court. The Gamecocks have gone 62-4 at home with Wilson on the roster.

South Carolina has reached the round of 16 for the past five seasons -- including four with Wilson -- and six of the past seven years.

Virginia was seeking its first regional semifinal since 2010. The Cavaliers hung tough most of the game despite going up against Staley, the greatest women's athlete in Virginia athletics who led the program to three Final Fours when she played from 1989-92.

"I'm so incredibly proud of this team, just their fight," Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said. "They just fought and believed in each other."

Toussaint and J'Kyra Brown had 16 points each to lead Virginia.

RELATED: MEN'S SWEET 16 TV SCHEDULE

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers showed tenacity and grit in their first two NCAA games since their last appearance in 2010. With three of their top five scorers from this season sophomores, including leading scorer Dominique Toussaint, Virginia will look to continue making strides in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks out-talented the competition -- perhaps even out-Wilsoned them -- in two home NCAA games. That won't fly in Albany in the Sweet 16 if the defending national champions hope to make a second straight title run in a region that includes No. 1 overall seed UConn. South Carolina will need more production from point guard Tyasha Harris and Alexis Jennings, who combined to go 8-of-20 shooting in the win over Virginia.

ANTHEM MIX UP

When it was time for the national anthem, only Virginia was lined up and ready. South Carolina was in the locker room, thinking it would not be played until the pre-game clock ran down (as was the case during the regular season) instead of with 12 minutes to go per the NCAA's run down. Dawn Staley apologized for her team's absence. "Charge it to our heads and not our hearts," she said.

LOUD CROWD

If anyone thought fans wouldn't turn out for a late Sunday game, they don't know fans of the Gamecock women's basketball team. There were 10,037 people in attendance, several in pajamas to honor the late start. Both Boyle and Wilson said the continued cheering and shouting made it hard to call signals. "Dawn said to me, `They're crazy,'" Boyle said. "She meant that in a good way."

RELATED: UMBC'S HISTORIC RUN ENDS IN SECOND ROUND

No. 16 UMBC shocks No. 1 Virginia to make NCAA history

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No. 16 UMBC shocks No. 1 Virginia to make NCAA history

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Senior guard Jairus Lyles scored 28 points, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County pulled off the most shocking upset in NCAA Tournament history, defeating Virginia 75-54 on Friday night to become the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed.

Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after going 31-2 this season, including 20-1 in ACC competition.

But the Cavaliers couldn't get anything generated on offense and the nation's top-ranked defense couldn't contain American East Conference champions.

RELATED: GIVE UMBC'S TWITTER GUY A RAISE

The 74 points were the most Virginia had allowed this year.

Lyles was the catalyst.

He diced up Virginia's defense in the second half, getting the hole easily on six different occasions and making easy layups. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as UMBC built a 16-point lead.

Lyles finished with 23 of his points in the second half and Joe Sherburne finished with 14 points.

The game was tied at halftime, but the Retrievers came out confident and motivated in the second half and built a double-digit lead that Virginia could never erase.

Sherburne scored on an and-one drive and then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key after a behind-the-back pass from KJ Maura. After Virginia made a foul shot, the shifty 5-foot-8, 140-pound Maura drove the lane for uncontested layup.

A Tony Bennett timeout couldn't stop the bleeding, as Lyles hit two more 3's and Sherburne hit one to extend UMBC's lead to 14 with 14:57 left in the game. Lyles was fouled on a 3-point shot and suddenly the Retrievers led by 16.

A corner 3-pointer and a layups off a fastbreak by Arkel Lamer gave UMBC its biggest lead at 67-48. From there, the party was on as chants of "UMBC" rang through the arena.

It was yet another early exit for the Cavaliers in a season that seemed to hold so much promise.

BIG PICTURE:

UMBC: Despite being undersized and unknown, they shocked the world and made history with an epic game.

Virginia: This isn't the first time Virginia has struggled as the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers trailed by five at halftime in 2014 to Coastal Carolina but went on to win 70-59.

UP NEXT

UMBC: Will face No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday in the second round.