Last Game, Last Look: Louisville Comes Back
An unlikely hero took over early, but in the end the national championship belonged to the team that always looks panicked, but never actually does.
The Louisville Cardinals, using its relentless and frantic pressure defense, came back from an early 13 point defense to beat Michigan, 82 -76, (seen on WWNY 7 News) earning the school its third NCAA championship. It was the second straight game Louisville overcame a double-digit deficit, doing so Saturday against Wichita State in the national semifinals.
And the reason the Cardinals were in trouble early was because of freshmen Spike Albrecht, a player who had scored a total of 19 points all season for Michigan. But Albrecht was in another world early on in the Georgia Dome, hitting four three pointers, scoring 17 points, all in the first twenty minutes of the game.
Luckily for the Cardinals (35-5) they had their own impressive reserve in Luke Hancock, who scored 14 straight points for Louisville in just over two minutes of game action, helping the Cards cut the deficit to one point at the half. Hancock, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, finished with 22 points, going five-for-five from three point range.
And if it wasn't Hancock hitting from deep for Louisville, it was forward Chane Behanan dominating the inside. Behanan scored 15 rugged points and collected game high 13 rebounds, 8 on the offensive end of the court. Behanan out-muscled Michigan's Mitch McGary, helping hold the dominate big man to just 6 points.
Peyton Siva, the Cardinals senior leader, was another key to the comeback. Siva scored 16 points, along with pulling down six rebounds, dishing out five assists, and collecting four steals. A major reason why head coach Rick Pitino was able to collect his second championship, the first coach to win a title at two different schools (Kentucky, 1996).
But things may have been different for Michigan (31-8) had National Player of the Year Trey Burke not gotten into early foul trouble. Burke collected his second foul just under 9 minutes into the game and ended up sitting on the bench until halftime. And while the Wolverines actually built their biggest lead of the game with Burke on the bench, they also watched Louisville go on a 14 - 3 run, fueled by Hancock, to completely change the momentum. Burke ended up having a big game, scoring 22 points and making three of his five three point attempts, but his sitting for so long could be called into question by Michigan fans.
But in the end, fans of both teams, and college basketball fans in general, will remember the 2013 national championship game, played in front of a record 74,326 crowd, as one of the most entertaining title contests in recent memory. The game was played at a fast pace, but it never looked out of control, a picture perfect finale for fans. Which may be why, after overcoming Michigan's early hot shooting, Louisville was able to claim the title. The Cardinals played at a speed they were used to all season, one that eventually wore down opponents all month long.
And after losing in last year's Final Four, Louisville came into the tournament with a mission: win it all. And after withstanding the Wolverines best punches early, it's mission accomplished for Pitino and his Cardinals.
Saturday, March 8, 2014, Watertown, NY