Down 12 points in the first half, and it seemed that America’s number one seeded college basketball team – Louisville – were going to end their magical year in disappointment. But like they had many times before, the Louisville Cardinals, under Coach Rick Pitino, brought themselves all the way back to outclass the Michigan and win the NCAA National Championship Final 82-76 on Monday in Atlanta. Scoring 22 points off the bench, Luke Hancock was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, the first substitute to ever win the award.
It was Louisville’s second consecutive double digit deficit and second consecutive win. After Hancock scored 20 points to lead them in a comeback win over Wichita State in the tournament’s semi-final round, he was once again the catalyst in the second half in the Final. Point Guard Peyton Siva added 18 for his side.
Michigan boasted star point guard Trey Burke, who had won several individual honours like the Naismith College Player of the Year Award, the Oscar Robertson Trophy, and the John R. Wooden Award in the lead up to the Final. Although Burke had a limited role in Michigan’s semi-final victory over Syracure, he rose to the challenge in the Final, scoring 24 points to keep his team in contention. Burke was aided by little-used sharpshooter Spike Albrecht, who rose to the occasion in the first half and chipped in 17 points in the game.
Louisville’s Coach Pitino – who was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday – rounded up a memorable week with this win. He became the first coach to win national titles at two different colleges, with his last one coming with Kentucky back in 1996. Pitino also briefly worked in the NBA with the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics in the 80s and late 90s before returning to college basketball with Louisville in 2001.
This was also Louisville’s third ever National Championship victory. The result was even sweeter for the team after they lost guard Kevin Ware to a horrific leg injury in the Elite Eight game against Duke. Pitino was able to instill a true sense of toughness and passion amongst the other players to fight for Ware and celebrate a championship together. Although fourth-seeded Michigan were able to have an impressive offensive start to the game, Louisville returned to their stifling defense to shut off their opponents and end the game as champions.