Louisville Cardinals edge Michigan Wolverines for national championship

ASSOCIATED PRESS Louisville's Chane Behanan (21) and Luke Hancock react after defeating Michigan, 82-76.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Louisville's Chane Behanan (21) and Luke Hancock react after defeating Michigan, 82-76.
Posted: April 10, 2013

ATLANTA - At 11:45 a.m. Monday, in a ballroom with a few hundred people, Rick Pitino was officially announced as part of the Nasimith Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2013. At 11:45 p.m., 1.5 miles away before 75,000 fans in a giant dome, Pitino became the first coach to win an NCAA championship with two schools. His Louisville team withstood an incredible offensive assault from Michigan and won, 82-76.

Pitino grew up in the shadow of Madison Square Garden, was a freshman point guard at Massachusetts on a team that had a senior named Julius Erving. He learned the fundamentals then and kept adding to his knowledge until his teams played a style that nobody could emulate and few could stop.

At a time where the sport has become too much about the lack of scoring, this NCAA championship game was a throwback to the days when players and coaches just went for it and you just kept firing. These teams never stopped until there was just no more ball to play.

The first half was so good that there was almost no way the second half could top it. It did, of course.

"For the Univerisity of Michigan to play that well as such a young team, we beat a great team," Pitino said. "And these are the toughest guys I've ever coached."

The first 20 minutes was great offense overwhelming great defense and then even greater quick strike offense making a double-digit deficit disappear in four possessions.

Seriously, Spike Albrecht, who was going to Brown, until John Beilein, who sees things nobody else does, offered him a scholarship. He had scored just 48 points during the regular season, but had become a factor in the NCAA, making all five of his threes.

But nobody, not even Beilein, could have imagined what was about to go down when Player of the Year Trey Burke went out with two fouls. Spike started hitting threes and never stopped. Even though he looks a bit like Ollie from "Hoosiers," he even hit a step back three off the dribble. Then, he began to drive and floating shots over Gorgui Dieng. He took more shots in the half (seven) than he had taken in any game. He had more points (17) by halftime than his career high in minutes (15).

And just when Spike was trending off the charts and it looked the Wolverines might shoot Louisville right out of the Georgia Dome, Luke Hancock, whose shoulder separation a year ago was so bad that medical people described it as the worst they had ever seen, nailed four threes in 1 second shy of 2 minutes to take the Cardinals from nowhere to somewhere. Hancock finished with 22 points.

If Burke does not get the fouls, there is no Spike. If the Cardinals were not missing so many shots at the rim, no Hancock. Nobody can make seem to make threes in domes except Spike and Luke, who did not miss in eight tries.

Russ Smith, the leading scorer in the tournament with 125 points, was shooting 1-for-9. Spike was 6-for-7 and a ridiculous 9-for-9 from the arc in the NCAA.

With all that, absolutely nothing had been decided by halftime, with Michigan leading 38-37.

It was spectacular to watch. Michigan is certainly capable of playing fast, but it was really Louisville's pace. The Cardinals want the game played at warp speed. They figure they are in better shape and over 40 minutes that will matter.

Still, Michigan, which had been getting the vast majority of the 50-50 balls, was still getting to them early in the second half. They were still flying, showing no signs of slowing down. But the Cardinals were coming hard, rushing the ball at the rim and daring Michigan to stop it.

Burke, who played just 6 minutes of the first half, was well-rested and it showed. He was getting where he wanted when he wanted to get there. He was making threes, finishing at the rim, creating uncertainty for the Cardinals defense. He finished with 24 points on 11 shots. Michigan shot 52.1 percent and lost.

The Cardinals countered with their own point guard Peyton Siva. He was absolutely fearless in blasting to the basket. No play was too difficult, no defender an obstacle.

Spike finally missed a long shot. He could not catch a pass. He became human.

Siva (18 points) threw down a lob dunk at one end so Glenn Robinson caught a long pass and jammed one at the other.

Burke met Siva at the summit and was called for a foul that looked like a great block. Siva made the free throws.

And Louisville started playing with the passion that all its coach's teams have played with. Michigan was not backing down. Chane Behanan (15 points, 12 rebounds) was an absolute wild man on the offensive glass for the Cardinals.

"Chane Behanan's guts on the backboard were the difference," Pitino said.

The game careened into the final minutes, with just about anything still possible. Nothing was going to be safe even if it looked safe. Leads were mirages, hopes one turnover away from fears.

Who was going to get a stop, a score, make the plays that ended a season with a championship?

The answer, finally, was Louisville.

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