ATLANTA, GA., April 9, 2013 — After a fiery first half saw a determined Michigan drop a 12 point lead down to only one over Louisville as the half ended, the battle was on. All Michigan lacked at that point was a storybook ending. They had the Cardinals on the run and seemed in total control.
At the same time, Michigan’s Spike Albrecht poured in 17 points in 16 minutes. The Cardinals just could not get their offense in sync, but the defense worked hard to try and contain the Wolverines and keep the score pretty even. And it began to work with that Louisville magic that has seen so many triumphs-from-tragedy escapades.
Behind by one at the half
When the clock rolled down to three minutes left, some sort of explosion hit the Cards and they outscored Michigan 14-3. By the end of the half, Michigan led by one point, 38-37. Again, it was junior Luke Hancock who came to the rescue of his team, dropping field goals and 3-pointers with complete abandon and seemingly covering all sides of the court at once like a mad man.
According to Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Michigan’s “high ball screen” made the Cardinals really have to work, and he called the Wolverines “just a great ball team.”
Cardinals’ magic begins
When the second half began, it seemed that Michigan had worn itself out, their magic seemed to disappear little by little. Albrecht was out of contention, but on the Cardinal side, Hancock, the magic man, playing his heart out for his ailing father, and predictable Peyton Siva, were just getting wound up. With Siva hitting four three-point shots in the first half, playing like a man on fire with flames shooting from his hands, his last three-point shot came from the depths of a corner with only 3:20 to go. That allowed Louisville to take their first solid lead, 76-66.
It would be hard to play mind reader and decide who the guys he has called one of the most talented teams he has ever coached, were playing for. Of course, Kevin Ware and his injured leg were there on the bench, though tonight it seemed more like an incentive and less like a distraction.
Pitino – Hall of Famer
Their coach had also just been elevated to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the 2013 class and doubtless they wanted to make him look good, as well as becoming the first coach on record who has led two teams to the NCAA championship from two different schools, University of Kentucky and its arch rival, University of Kentucky. What’s not to play for?
The Wolverines were just out-played and their early momentum seemed to have evaporated. At the same time, another lesser known Cardinal, Chane Behanan, a 6’6”, 250 lb. forward from Cincinnati, stepped up and helped the Cardinals do the job with a total of 15 points to his credit.
Burke gets Player of Year award
Michigan’s Trey Burke, who had just been named Naismith Player of the Year, and who had only been pursued by Appalachian State and Michigan, was outstanding with 24 points. Perhaps in any other game with any other opposing team, Burke would have been on the winning side. The Louisville Cardinals are just…different.
They win the unwinnable, they perform magic on the court and they just outshine whoever they are playing.
Wolverines Glenn Robinson III, nicknamed GR III, scored 12 points, as did Tim Hardaway, Jr. Coach John Bielein urged his players at the half to “play with poise and confidence,” and for a while it seemed they did. They were just up against a super team in the Cardinals.
In addition to Behanan’s 15, Peyton Siva ended up with 18 points for Louisville. Russ Smith seemed slightly off again tonight with nine points. Both Gorgui Dieng and Wayne Blackshear had eight points. Montrezl Harrell had just two points that came on a needed dunk that set up the Cardinals’ first lead of the night, 37-36.
A hat trick for Pitino
As if Coach Rick Pitino didn’t have enough to be overjoyed about with the NCAA Championship in his pocket and being named to the Hall of Fame, there was more. Pitino received a phone call that his son, Richard, had been named head coach in Minnesota. Also, Goldencents, a horse he co-owns, won the Santa Anita Derby and is a Kentucky Derby contender.
Strangely enough, some 10-12 years ago, Rick Pitino had been offered the coaching spot at University of Michigan, and had strongly considered it. The fly in the coaching ointment had been his wife, who had never even been to Michigan and didn’t want to go, and in the wise manner of one who likes peace and harmony, Pitino declined the offer.
As the minutes and seconds wound down to a precious few, Chane Benahann pulled one more rabbit out of his hat. He went up for a normal shot, but it failed to go in. Following his own rebounds, he shot twice more before grabbing the ball off the unforgiving backboard and sinking the shot. Doesn’t sound like much, but it gave U of L the lead by an important eight, with a little over a one minute to go.
Pitino later commented that “players put coaches in the Hall of Fame, but tonight Chane Benahan’s sheer guts on the board is one of the reasons we won.”
Red and black pandemonium reigns
The Georgia Dome and its 74,326 occupants went wild as the final buzzer sounded, and the Cardinals mobbed the floor, confetti falling like a Bluegrass shower in spring, and several Cardinals getting a ladder to cut down the nets in the usual post-win tradition. After a few snips had been taken on one net, something different occurred.
The basket was lowered hydraulically to a more manageable level, and Kevin Ware hobbled determinedly out on the court where he cut down the net and waved it like a trophy. It was a night for the fans, the players and coaches, and for one young man with a cast on his right leg. Ware always refers to his team as “a band of brothers” and they were. And two super large Georgia State Patrol officers escorted Ware from the stadium to a waiting bed.
The NCAA Championship which had started with 62 teams was now history, and the Louisville Cardinals had made it theirs.
ADDENDUM — Later news reported that Luke Hancock’s very ill dad WAS able to make the game, even though he was too weak to stand and cheer, etc. But the first person Luke ran to hug was his dad, who made his success possible and perfect.
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