Todd Billet: Master of last-minute heroics
Todd Billet is listed in the program as a 6-foot guard. He's closer to 5-10, but he's proving to be far bigger when a game's on the line.
Billet's 3-pointer with just over 13 seconds remaining on February 24 gave Virginia a 74-72 victory against No. 12 North Carolina. It also gave Billet three game-winning 3-pointers in a span of 11 days for a team that has sorely needed his heroics.
The Cavaliers (15-10, 5-9 in the ACC at press time) went into the stretch fighting Clemson for last place in the league and seemingly bound for the play-in game.
Now, with three victories in four games, Virginia is tied in the win column with seventh-place Maryland. It plays the Terrapins in the regular-season finale March 7.
For Billet, the late-season rally is a long time coming and well earned. The team has played four freshman extensively in arguably the nation's toughest conference.
"I think the freshmen are really starting to mature and step up in ways that freshmen usually don't step up,'' says tri-captain Billet, "like Gary Forbes. He was great. He got some loose balls, he got some steals down the stretch, and he guarded the heck out of [ACC scoring leader Rashad] McCants. Little things like that.
"Guys are learning how to contribute to wins without scoring 15 points,'' Billet says.
Billet also downplayed his end-game play-making, calling it one of his jobs as the lone senior who plays, and credited his teammates for execution that made it possible.
Others, though, see it differently.
"He's a very hard worker,'' coach Pete Gillen after the victory over Carolina.
"He was the last guy in the gym yesterday shooting. He did extra shooting practice during the day. He's a terrific young man, so it's nice to have some nice memories as his college career ends up.''
Billet's basket was his first of the half, and not the first time he picked the biggest shot to finally make his presence known. Against Georgia Tech, his 3-pointer was his only field goal– and the first game-winning 3-pointer of his college career.
Even Tar Heels coach Roy Williams celebrated Billet's dramatics, starting when he hit the game winner to beat No. 18 Tech on February 14 and continuing when he hit another one with 16 seconds left in Virginia's 58-55 victory against Clemson on Saturday, February 21.
"If I wasn't the coach at North Carolina, I would be very happy for Billet,'' Williams said. "He's in a magical moment right now. He has big-time guts.''
The Cavaliers had a week to get ready for No. 11 Wake Forest [a game that falls after the Hook's deadline] before finishing their regular season in College Park, where they stunned the Terps last season.
Then it's on to the ACC tournament, where they haven't won in eight years but seem to be gaining confidence behind their point guard with the flair for drama.
"I just say he's clutch,'' said center Elton Brown, who was the other offensive option when Virginia in-bounded the ball with 23.8 seconds remaining trailing 72-71.
"I don't know what it is. He's just got to keep doing it,'' Brown added.
Virginia's Todd Billet, center, looks back at Virginia's bench after scoring the winning basket to defeat Clemson 58-55 on February 21 at Clemson. Smiling at right is teammate Donte Minter.
AP PHOTO/MARY ANN CHASTAIN