Louisville men beat Michigan in NCAA title game
Louisville rallied to beat Michigan 82-76 for the NCAA men's basketball championship in Atlanta.
The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Rick Pitino capped perhaps the greatest period of his life with the prize he wanted most of all.
Luke Hancock produced another huge game off the bench, scoring 22 points, and Pitino became the first coach to win national basketball titles at two schools when relentless Louisville rallied from another 12-point deficit to beat Michigan 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
This title came on the same day Pitino was announced as a member of the latest Hall of Fame class, a couple of days after a colt he co-owns — Goldencents — won a big race on the way to next month's Kentucky Derby, and a few more days after his son, Richard, was hired as coach by Minnesota.
The title might have been the best feeling of all. The Cardinals (35-5) lived up to their billing as the top overall seed in the field, though they had to work hard to prevail.
Louisville trailed Wichita State by a dozen in the second half of the national semifinals before rallying for a 72-68 victory. This time, they fell behind by 12 in the first half, though a stunning spurt left the Cards down by a point at the break.
"I had the 13 toughest guys I've ever coached," said Pitino, 60, who plans to follow through on a promise he made to players if they won the title — getting a tattoo.
No one was tougher than Hancock, named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He came off the bench to make four straight three-pointers after Michigan got a boost from a more unlikely player.
Freshman Spike Albrecht made four straight from beyond the arc, too, blowing by his career high before the break with 17 points. Coming in, Albrecht was averaging 1.8 points and had not scored more than seven in a game all season.
While Albrecht didn't do much in the second half, Hancock finished what he started for Louisville. He buried another three from the corner with 3:20 remaining to give the Cardinals their biggest lead, 76-66.
Michigan wouldn't go away, but Hancock helped wrap it up by making two free throws with 29 seconds left.
Louisville guard Peyton Siva, a graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, contributed 18 points, six rebounds and five assists and was selected to the Final Four all-tournament team.
While Pitino shrugged off any attempt to make this about him, there was no doubt the Cardinals also wanted to win a national title for someone else — injured guard Kevin Ware.
Watching again from his seat at the end of the Louisville bench, his injured right leg propped up on a chair, Ware smiled and slapped hands with teammates as they celebrated in the closing seconds.
Any pain Ware was feeling from that gruesome injury in the regional final, when he landed awkwardly, snapped his leg and was left writhing on the floor with the bone sticking through the skin, was long gone as he hobbled gingerly onto the court with the aid of crutches, basking in a sea of confetti and streamers.
Louisville again came out wearing Ware's No. 5 on the back of their warmup jerseys, which said "Ri5e to the Occasion" on the front. When the championship belonged to the Cardinals, Ware got a big hug from Pitino, who also won a title at Kentucky in 1996. The basket was lowered so the injured player could cut a strand out of the net.
"These are my brothers," Ware said. "They got the job done. I'm so proud of them."
The Cardinals closed the season on a 16-game winning streak. Forward Chane Behanan chipped in with 15 points and 12 rebounds as Louisville slowly closed out the Wolverines (31-8).
Michigan was in the title game for the first time since the Fab Five lost the second of two straight championship games in 1993. Players from that team cheered on this group of young stars.
But, like the Fab Five, national player of the year Trey Burke and a squad with three freshman starters came up short in the last game of the season.
Burke led Michigan with 24 points on 7-for-11 shooting. He started out on fire, making his first three shots and scoring seven points to match his output from the semifinal victory over Syracuse, when he made a mere 1 of 8 shots.
"We feel bad about it," Wolverines coach John Beilein said after the loss.
"There are some things we could have done better and get a win, but at the same time Louisville is a terrific basketball team."
Attendance: 74,326. Officials: John Cahill, Tony Greene, John Higgins.