It was the end of the ACC Tournament. Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite called a meeting with his coach, Tony Bennett. He wanted to make one thing clear.
"I wanted to tell him that I'm ready," Diakite told CBS Sports.
Diakite was ready to right a wrong. In two ACC Tournament games, he had played only 20 minutes and grabbed zero rebounds, finishing with as many fouls -- five -- as total points. He felt like he let his teammates down with his performance. It was his least productive two-game stretch all season, and at a time when UVA was pursuing an ACC Tournament championship.
"I told him I felt like I gave up on the team," Diakite said of the private meeting with his coach. "I didn't play my best. I told him not to take [my performance] as 'Mamadi is going backwards.' I told him that I'm ready to make something happen. Something that he's never witnessed in his life."
Bennett has seen a buzzer-beater or two during his life, sure. What Diakite did -- making a shot to send a game to overtime -- was not something new. But on March 30, Diakite's shot was a special one. It allowed him to deliver on his promise to his coach. It gave hope. Hope for Virginia to win. Hope for Virginia to advance. Hope for Bennett and his Cavaliers to do what he'd never done: advance to the Final Four as a coach.
Five minutes of overtime later .... Now look what we have: Tony Bennett and Virginia in the Final Four for the first time.
Bennett recalls vividly that fateful meeting with Diakite. That brief discussion, which Diakite now recognizes was an inflection point for him as a player, was impactful also for the coach.
"Mamadi asked to speak with me after the ACC Tournament, and he said, 'Coach' -- and we talked, and he said -- I can't exactly remember the words, but he said, 'I'm ready.' He said, 'That wasn't my best. I wasn't quite where I needed to be or right in that ACC Tournament. I desperately want to do anything, absolutely anything I can to make this team advance. I know what last year was, and he said, This is what I'm so committed to.'
"In his words, it wasn't like I'm back, but it was more like I'm ready and I understand that I wasn't what I was in other games," Bennett said.
Diakite has leveled up since he and Bennett leveled with one another. Don't take it from me -- or from his teammate, Jay Huff, who said, "He's definitely been clutch" since Virginia's NCAA Tournament run took off -- take it from his stat sheet. Diakite has turned a corner quick.
- Pre-NCAA Tournament: 6.8 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game, 19.9 minutes per game
- NCAA Tournament: 13 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, 2.25 blocks per game, 33 minutes per game
Diakite wasn't expected to be this impactful. Not this quick. Coming into the season, Bennett said he tabbed him as an X-factor. Someone who could do the little things and complement Ty Jerome, De'Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy -- UVA's star trio. Now, though, Diakite is a staple for this Virginia team that heads into the weekend as the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament here in Minneapolis.
"He's giving us great minutes," teammate Braxton Key said. "He's been a great lift. He's rebounding the ball really well. And scoring, he's probably one of the most consistent scorers we have right now."
Diakite's star turn will be tested once more on Saturday, as he has one of the more challenging individual matchups in the Final Four. Against a physical Auburn frontcourt, he will be called upon to match up with 6-foot-11, 260-pound center Austin Wiley and the burnished trio of Anfernee McLemore, Horace Spencer and Danjel Purifoy in the post.
Just as he's responded from the post-ACC Tournament challenge from his coach, Diakite's ready to respond at least once more.
"That shot will go down, the pass and the shot, in Virginia basketball history," Bennett said. "From the start of the year, I said he's an X-factor for us, and the way he's played all tournament has been significant."