Five thoughts on NCAA title-game thriller
APR 09, 2013 10:48a ET
Louisville trailed most of the first half but outlasted Michigan in the final minutes, giving the tournament's No. 1 overall seed an 82-76 victory over the Wolverines.
Here are my thoughts on one of the most entertaining title games ever played.
1.) What a weekend for Rick Pitino. The legendary coach was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame and then became the first coach ever to win a national championship with two different schools. Pitino couldn't get off the ladder fast enough after cutting his piece of the net. There was no long pause and only a quick waive to the crowd. It was obvious he didn't want much of the focus despite winning a second championship in seven Final Four appearances. He got his moment a few minutes later, though. About 20 of his family members sat around Pitino and all gave the Louisville "L" sign with their hands. I don't think it would be possible for the 60-year-old to look any happier.
Well, that smile might be wiped away when he eventually gets his first tattoo. Pitino told his team at the beginning of the season that he'd get inked if they won the national championship.
"It was crazy to even think about it," Louisville guard Peyton Siva said. "But we won. He's a man of his word."
2.) There's no way Louisville would be able to hang with Michigan offensively without a big night from leading scorer Russ Smith. That's what I thought entering the contest. The junior guard averages nearly 20 points per game and never scored less than 21 in the tournament. Well, until Monday night. Smith had about as bad of a game as a star player can have, scoring nine points on 3-of-16 shooting and turning the ball over three times. Luke Hancock is the reason the Cardinals were able to pull-out their biggest victory since winning the 1986 national title at Reunion Arena. Hancock came off the bench to score 22 points on 5-of-5 shooting from three. He was so valuable that he became the first reserve player to win the tournament's most outstanding player award.
"It doesn't get better than this, it's unbelievable," Hancock said. "I just hit a few shots."
Ha! Hit a few shots? Yeah, a few shots that are going to prevent Hancock from paying for a meal for a while in the city of Louisville, Kentucky.
3.) Who is Spike Albrecht? I'll tell you who he is. He's the guy everyone would be talking about if Michigan had won. The 5-11 freshman guard scored 17 points in the first half. That's 17 points for a guy that hasn't scored more than seven in a game all season. Albrecht buried all four of his triple-tries and gave Michigan its biggest lead of the night, 33-21, on a layup with just under four minutes left before halftime. As he was bombing from long range, Michigan reserves looked off into the crowd with their hands on the heads in disbelief.
Michigan point guard Trey Burke was one of the few Wolverines not in awe of Albrecht's scoring outburst. "He may not win the look test, but he's going to make plays for this team," Burke said. "I wasn't surprised by his performance today. We see him do things in practice a lot."
4.) Believe me, I know I'm fortunate to cover sports for a living. And if I ever need a reminder of my good fortune I can just think back to Monday night in the Georgia Dome. The atmosphere was second to none. Every basket, turnover, rebound and bad call allowed the record crowd of 74,326 to put on a championship-caliber performance of their own. When Louisville's Montrezl Harrell flushed home a lob from Peyton Siva with 22 seconds left in the first half I got chills. It was the loudest I have ever heard a building. Moments like that let you know you're alive. And trust me, those in attendance never relaxed in the second half. Chairs weren't necessary for this event. If you were sitting it was probably because you didn't have a pulse. Although there's no cheering on press row, Monday night was one of those occasions when both teams deserved a standing ovation from everyone.
"You know, a lot of times when you get to the Final Four, you get to a championship, the game's not always great, not always pretty," Pitino said. "This was a great college basketball game."
5.) Fab Five and Kevin Ware. What a memorable set of side stories. Adding to the action on the floor was Louisville being provided with extra motivation from teammate Kevin Ware, a reserve guard whose gruesome broken leg helped his team rally together. On the other side, former Fab Five members Jalen Rose, Juwon Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King attended the title game as a sign of support for the Michigan team they once played for. I almost wrote "team they once represented" but I stopped because they still represent the university. Those five freshmen garnered more attention for Michigan than any other player or players to wear a Wolverines uniform. The big mystery before tip-off was whether or not the fifth member, Chris Webber, would show up. He did. Although he didn't sit with the other four, Webber tweeted a picture from his suite inside the stadium. Louisville won, so the Ware storyline received more attention. Perhaps the most memorable moment from this weekend: One of the baskets being lowered so Ware could cut down the last piece of the net. That's the image that photographers yell at other photographers for standing in the way of their shot. That really happened. Unforgettable.
Follow Jon Machota on Twitter: @jonmachota
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