U.Va. walk-ons enjoying ride as 'Hoos head to Sweet 16

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- In Virginia’s locker room at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC, freshman walk-on Jayden Nixon got the spot directly between junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. So whenever the room was opened to the media during last weekend’s NCAA Tournament, Nixon didn’t have a whole lot of room around his locker.

The St. Anne’s-Belfield graduate didn’t seem to mind the cramped quarters, especially following UVA’s 63-51 win over Oklahoma Sunday night that clinched a spot in this week’s Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s so cool,” Nixon said in the midst of the media scrum. “I know how all of our fans are talking about how we have a huge monkey on our back, trying to get out of the first weekend. And to be part of this, it’s a surreal experience.”

Nixon is one of two walk-ons from the Charlottesville area on the UVA roster this postseason. Forward Austin Katstra, who was a three-time all-state selection at Albemarle High School, is in his second season with the Wahoos. Katstra has appeared in 11 games for UVA this season; Nixon has played in 14, including a brief appearance late in UVA’s 71-56 win against Gardner-Webb in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

UVA, the No. 1 seed in the South Region who improved to 31-3 on the season with the Oklahoma win, will face No. 12 seed Oregon in Thursday’s Sweet 16 in Louisville. It’s the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since reaching the Elite Eight in 2016, when Katstra and Nixon were both still in high school.

Katstra was a freshman last year, when the Wahoos made NCAA Tournament history by losing to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round of the South Region.

“We’ve definitely been extremely motivated, just to avenge last year’s loss,” Katstra said following the Oklahoma win. “We learned from it, and came here and took care of business in our first two games. So we’re going to keep using that motivation and hopefully win a couple more.”

“It’s been great,” said Nixon. “We’ve been cheering on, we practice and on the sidelines all year, and to finally see the fruits of our labor come has been great.”