No hill too high. No gap too wide. No deficit too daunting. No waiting any more for these Louisville Cardinals.
The Floyd Street escape artists climbed back from 12 points behind for the second time in the space of one Final Four on Monday night, then mounted a temporary stage to celebrate their school’s first NCAA Championship since the adoption of the three-point shot.
They beat Michigan, 82-76, and they did it while treading a tightrope of foul trouble. They did it behind backup forward Luke Hancock, who twice came off the bench in Atlanta to deliver epic performances. They did it behind prodigal forward Chane Behanan, who started the season under a gag order and ended it by making himself heard in deafening decibels beneath the basket.
They did it for the first time since 1986, and capped a bountiful day for their coach, Rick Pitino. Formally announced among the new class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday morning, Pitino padded his resume late Monday night by becoming the first college coach to win an NCAA Championship at two different schools.
“We beat a great basketball team,” Pitino said amid the confetti of the post-game trophy presentation. “Probably because I have the 13 toughest guys I ever coached.”
– Reported by Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal
Luke Hancock led the Cards with a career-high-tying 22 points and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. Peyton Siva, who had 18 points, and Chane Behanan, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds, joined Hancock on the All-Tournament team. Michigan’s Trey Burke and Mitch McGary were also selected to the team.
The Cards seemingly rotated carrying the team for different stretches in the game. Wayne Blackshear got them started, scoring the first five points of the game en route to eight points.
After struggling for most of the tournament, Behanan gave them a lift in the second half. He grabbed seven offensive rebounds — only the second time all season he had that many — and scored 11 points with 11 rebounds in the second half.
– Reported by C. L. Brown of the Louisville Courier-Journal
Spike Albrecht: It was the start of perhaps the most remarkable bench performance in modern NCAA memory. On the biggest stage, in front of nearly 75,000 screaming fans, a kid who averaged less than two points a game became a scoring machine. When a terrible foul call put Burke on the bench again, Albrecht simply took over. He drove the lane and tossed one in. He drove again and got fouled. He scored 17 points in less than 17 minutes, had his career highs in points and minutes — all before halftime — and, most incredibly, made everyone temporarily forget that the national player of the year was stuck on the bench.
In fact, for a while, it looked as if Michigan might put away Louisville without Burke breaking another sweat.
– Reported by Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press
When Albrecht scored on a drive with 3:51 left in the half, Michigan’s lead was 33-21, and Albrecht led everyone with 17 points. This is the same Spike who was offered a scholarship to Michigan almost as an afterthought. His other major suitor: Appalachian State.
And now, with Burke in foul trouble, the ball was Spike’s. With his first-half flurry, he was 9-for-9 on 3-pointers in the Tournament, after averaging 1.6 points PER GAME. The 5-foot-11 freshman was becoming the type of discovery that sends people scurrying for comparisons.
All of a sudden, everyone wanted to be like Spike. His name is Michael Albrecht but he earned the nickname when he was 5, clomping around in his new baseball spikes. The Cardinals surely wanted to put a spike in Spike before he destroyed them. Burke was on the bench most of the half and wasn’t happy about it, but Albrecht helped the Wolverines avert disaster.
– Reported by Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News
Luke Hancock produced another huge game off the bench, scoring 22 points, and Pitino became the first coach to win national titles at two schools when Louisville rallied from another 12-point deficit to beat Michigan 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
”This team is one of the most together, toughest and hard-nosed teams,” the coach said. ”Being down never bothers us. They just come back.”
More like relentless to the very end.
They’re not stopping now, either. The players intend to hold Pitino to a promise he made: If they won a national title, he’d get a tattoo.
Better leave a lot of space, coach, if you want to make this a tribute to the team.
– Reported by Paul Newberry of the Associated Press
No one was tougher than Hancock, who matched his season high after a 20-point effort in the semifinal victory over Wichita State. This time, he came off the bench to hit four straight 3-pointers in the first half after Michigan got a boost from an even more unlikely player.
Freshman Spike Albrecht made four straight from beyond the arc, too, blowing by his career high before the break with 17 points. Coming in, Albrecht was averaging 1.8 points a game and had not scored more than seven all season.
Albrecht didn’t do much in the second half, but Hancock finished what he started for Louisville. He made it 5-for-5 when he hit his final 3 from the corner with 3:20 remaining to give the Cardinals their biggest lead, 76-66. Michigan wouldn’t go away, but Hancock wrapped it up by making two free throws with 29 seconds left.
– Reported by Paul Newberry of the Associated Press