After a month filled with crazy, unpredictable upsets, it was the number one overall seed that ended up coming out on top in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
But it certainly wasn’t easy for the Louisville Cardinals, as they had to rally from a deep first half hole to defeat the Michigan Wolverines 82-76 on Monday night in the men’s NCAA championship game.
College basketball fans were treated to an instant classic, as two determined teams traded blows in a fast-paced and very physical game for the entire 40-minutes. Michigan jumped out to a 33-21 lead in the first half behind the play of an unlikely leader – freshman reserve Spike Albrecht, who scored 17 points before halftime – but then Louisville slugged back, mounting a 14-3 run that cut the deficit to just one point, as the teams went into the locker room with the score at 38-37.
Like Michigan, Louisville’s offense was bolstered by an unexpected hero – Luke Hancock – who scored 22 points to lead the team and hit four three-pointers late in the first half to ignite the rally.
“We just went into war right there with a great Michigan team,” Hancock said, according to ESPN.com. “We needed a rally and we’ve been doing it for a couple of games straight, being down. We just had to wait and make our run.”
Louisville carried its momentum into the second frame, taking the lead, but Michigan’s Trey Burke – who was named the AP Player of the Year earlier in the week – turned on his game after sitting most of the first half with foul trouble. Burke single-handedly kept the Wolverines close, ending the game with 24 points, and even though it was’t enough for the win, he was proud of his team’s accomplishments this season, while giving credit to the Cardinals.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far,” said Burke. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get past the second round. We fought. We fought up to this point, but Louisville was the better team today, and they’re deserving of the win.”
Louisville’s title marked the second career national championship for head coach Rick Pitino – whose other came in 1996 with Kentucky – but as always, Pitino didn’t want the spotlight on him, as he credited his players for the team’s success.
“I had the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” said Pitino.
Of course, the team wouldn’t have even been in position to win the title if it hadn’t been for the contributions of forward Kevin Ware, who sustained a broken leg in the regional final against Duke. The Cardinals were probably playing more for him than anyone else.
“These are my brothers,” Ware said. “They got the job done. I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”
Congratulations to the 2013 NCAA National Champion Louisville Cardinals!