Trey Burke and Russ Smith rightfully received the bulk of the pregame headlines coming into Monday's national championship game, but its the reserves of Michigan and Louisville that have shined at the Georgia Dome as the Wolverines hold a tenuous 38-37 halftime lead.
Spike Albrecht, who has averaged less than two points per game this season, already has 17 in the program's biggest game in 20 years. Despite his limited credentials, the baby-faced guard is 9-for-9 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament, including four from long distance tonight.
Burke scored all seven of his points in the first three minutes, but sat the final 11:09 because of foul trouble. Still, Michigan led by as many as 12 and could have had an even bigger lead at the break if not for Luke Hancock.
Hancock has continued his surprising Final Four with 16 points off the bench after erupting for 20 in Saturday's comeback win over Wichita State.
Smith, meanwhile, has been too strong on a lot of his attempts and is just 1- of-9 from the floor for four points. The Cardinals' leading scorer has averaged 25 points over the previous five tourney games.
Louisville rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat the Shockers and will need to do the same if Rick Pitino, on the day his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame became official, wants to make history as the first coach to win national titles at two different schools.
Michigan's only championship came in 1989, while Louisville has two to its credit, the last coming in 1986.
The Wolverines came close in 1992 and '93 when Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard -- the group of players infamously known as the Fab Five -- led them to the brink. Surprisingly, all five players are in the stands watching Monday.
Pitino and Michigan head coach John Beilein watched their clubs play at a breakneck pace out of the gate. Burke, the Naismith Trophy winner, scored Michigan's first seven points after being held to seven in Saturday's win over Syracuse, and it was even, 7-7, heading into the first television timeout.
Burke's supporting cast got in on the act with the point guard on the bench, namely Albrecht, who drained three from behind the arc in a three-minute span to give the Wolverines a 20-13 lead eight minutes in.
Even with Burke out, Michigan stayed in front and even extended its lead. Albrecht scored eight points on a 13-4 run that gave Michigan a 33-21 lead with less than four minutes left before Hancock caught fire.
The junior sharpshooter drained four consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Cardinals within one, and Louisville took its first lead, 37-36, on the next possession as Peyton Siva hooked up with Montrezl Harrell for an alley-oop.
Glenn Robinson III's two free throws in the closing seconds ended an entertaining 20 minutes.