Soderberg wins National Championship with Virginia’s overtime victory
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
As the University of Virginia men’s basketball team beat Texas Tech in overtime in the NCAA Division 1 National Championship Game in Minneapolis Monday, April 8, former Pacelli High School and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) standout Brad Soderberg won a National Title for the first time.
In his fourth-year as an assistant coach at Virginia, Soderberg watched from the bench as the top-seeded Cavaliers (35-3) overcame a late-deficit in regulation to force overtime, where they pulled ahead late to win 85-77 over Texas Tech (31-7) and capture the National Championship.
“It would take me a long time to describe what a thrill it was, but it was kind of surreal in light of the fact that a year ago, we were in such dire straits at the end of the year,” said Soderberg, after Virginia was the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the opening round of the tournament last season. “And then a little over 12 months later, we’re 35-3, and there’s confetti coming down on our heads in that stadium.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “And to do it under those circumstances is very rare.”
After beating Purdue 80-75 in overtime in the Elite Eight March 30, Virginia opened in the Final Four against Auburn (30-10) at U.S. Bank. Stadium Saturday, April 6.
The Cavaliers trailed 31-28 at halftime, but opened the second half on an 8-0 run to take a 36-31 lead with 14:29 remaining, and went on to build a 57-47 lead with 5:22 to go.
Auburn came back with a 14-0 run to take a 61-57 lead with 17.6 seconds left, and after junior guard Kyle Guy hit a three-pointer with 7.4 seconds to play to bring Virginia within 61-60, Auburn made one of two free throws to go up 62-60.
After the Cavaliers inbounded from the left sideline with 1.5 seconds remaining, Guy was fouled on a three-point attempt with 0.6 seconds to go, and he proceeded to knock down all three free throws, as Virginia went on to a 63-62 victory to advance to the National Championship Game.
“It’s remarkable how the last three games have ended, but that game against Auburn, again inside of 15 seconds, it looked like it was over,” said Soderberg. “Kyle made a big shot, and then I thought coach (Tony) Bennett ran a great sideline out-of-bounds play that got him a shot from the corner.
“We didn’t know for sure if a foul was called or not, but watching the replay, it sure appears that they made the right call, and good for us,” he said. “And more importantly, good for Kyle, that he had the poise to make those three free throws, just when we had to have him.
“Kyle is wired for that exact situation, it just seems that over his career, when the stakes were the highest, he’s found a way to make it happen,” he said.
Texas Tech followed with a 61-51 win over Michigan State (32-7) in the other National Semifinal Saturday night, to set up a showdown with Virginia in the National Championship Game Monday night.
Virginia got out to a 9-3 lead just over seven minutes into the game, and led 17-7 midway through the first half, before Texas Tech came back to take a 25-21 lead with 4:52 to play in the opening half.
Junior guard Ty Jerome knocked down a three-pointer just before the buzzer to give Virginia a 32-29 lead at halftime, and the Cavaliers led throughout the second half, as they built a 59-51 advantage with 5:46 to go.
However, Texas Tech rallied to tie the game at 59-59 with 3:28 left, and used a layup with 35.1 seconds to play and a pair of free throws with 22.5 seconds remaining to take a 68-65 lead.
Virginia sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter answered with a three-pointer from the corner with 12.9 seconds to play to tie the game at 68-68, and Texas Tech had a chance to win on an inbound play with 0.8 seconds left in regulation, but Virginia junior guard Braxton Key blocked a shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime tied at 68-68.
“There were some incredibly big plays made,” said Soderberg, who was coaching in a National Championship Game for the first time in his 33-year career. “The shot that De’Andre Hunter hit from the right corner, and then the fact that Texas Tech had a chance with that sideline out-of-bounds to get a shot off, and Braxton Key blocked it.
“But there were so many other plays like that, a couple of assists from Ty Jerome to find the open man, and the fact that we went 12-for-12 from the free-throw line in overtime,” he said. “A lot of times coaches get credit for those kind of wins, when in reality the players have to make the plays.”
Texas Tech used a three-pointer and a jumper from senior guard Matt Mooney to go up 73-70 with 3:10 remaining in overtime, but Guy hit a pair of free throws and Hunter followed with a three-pointer to put the Cavaliers ahead 75-73 with 2:09 to play.
Virginia knocked down its next eight free throws to increase its lead to 81-73 with 23 seconds left, and went on to close out an 85-77 victory to claim its first National Title in program history.
“I’m just so proud of our guys,” said Soderberg. “What they’ve done this year, and the way that they’ve finished games in this tournament, has been remarkable.”
With Minneapolis a three-and-a-half hour drive from Stevens Point, Soderberg had a large group of family on hand for the Final Four, as his parents Don and Kathy watched the National Championship Game from the stands.
“That was the most special part for me, because it’s kind of ironic how things all played out, and the fact that the year that we happened to win the National Championship, it’s the closest venue to Stevens Point of any that they can have,” said Soderberg. “And that my parents, and my six siblings and their spouses, and my nieces and nephews, and my own children were able to all make it, was just an incredible icing on the cake.
“I would’ve been happy to win the National Championship in Los Angeles with none of my family there,” he said. “But to do it, and to have them there as well, I can’t imagine how it could’ve been better.”
The win capped a run this season that saw Virginia bounce back from its first round NCAA Tournament loss last year, as the Cavaliers used an improbable last-second shot to force overtime in their win over Purdue in the Elite Eight, then won in the final second over Auburn in the Final Four, before they beat Texas Tech in overtime to win the National Title and finish 35-3.
“It really felt like there was, whatever you want to call it, there was ‘destiny, divine intervention, God had a plan,’” said Soderberg. “I don’t know for sure what it was, but the way that we beat Purdue, the way that we beat Auburn, and the way that we beat Texas Tech, something was going on, because there was some basketball gods that were helping us out.
“And I know that sounds weird, but sometimes you have to be lucky, and we got lucky in a number of occasions, three separate times, so who knows,” he said. “But one thing’s for sure, and this is something my dad used to always say, ‘never apologize for a win, because there will be lots of times in your life where you lose the close one.’”
After growing up in Stevens Point and playing basketball for his father at Pacelli, Soderberg started on the UWSP men’s basketball team’s 1984 NAIA National Runner-up team, and began his coaching career as an assistant at UWSP, before jobs have taken him to schools in Colorado (Colorado State), Kansas (Fort Hayes State), Iowa (Loras), South Dakota (South Dakota State), back to Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin), Missouri (St. Louis and Lindenwood) and now Virginia.
He said that being involved in a National Championship Game is something that you dream about your whole life when you’re in basketball, either as a player or as a coach, and that it was a surreal experience when the final horn blew Monday night, and Virginia had won the National Title.
“I’m a Stevens Point boy and I always will be, and it’s hard to fathom,” said Soderberg, who was also an assistant coach on Wisconsin’s 2000 Final Four team. “Having gone to elementary school at St. Stan’s, and played at Pacelli, and played at UW-Stevens Point, and I had always dreamt that maybe some day I could be the Pointers’ head coach.
“And for me now, 33 years later, to have been to two Final Fours and won a National Championship, it’s too much to grasp,” he said. “But I will always remember my roots, and the work ethic that I learned in Stevens Point.
“And I’ll cherish what went on (Monday) for the rest of my life,” he said.