Atlanta, GA – The Louisville Cardinals came into the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed and vindicated themselves Monday by beating Michigan, 82-76, in an intense national championship game at the Georgia Dome.
Luke Hancock, after erupting for 20 points in Saturday's comeback win over Wichita State, scored 14 of his 22 points in a three-minute span late in the first half to help the Cardinals overcome another double-digit deficit.
Hancock, part of a shorthanded bench due to the absence of Kevin Ware, also hit a dagger 3-pointer and two clutch free throws down the stretch to seal Louisville's third national title and first since 1986.
"I'm so excited for this team to be in this situation. It's been a long road," said Hancock, a transfer from George Mason who was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. "I'm happy that multiple guys got to contribute on this great run."
The Cardinals (35-5) relied on a balanced attack and relentless pursuit of the ball with Russ Smith having an off-shooting night. They grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to Michigan's one in the second half and had six players score at least eight points, including Smith, who had nine on 3-of-16 shooting.
Peyton Siva netted 14 of his 18 points after the break while Chane Behanan contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds in a victory that closed out a memorable day for Rick Pitino.
Pitino, whose induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame was announced Monday, became the first coach to win national titles at two different schools, capturing his first with Kentucky in 1996.
"It's just been an incredible run with the most wonderful young men I had the pleasure to be around," said Pitino, whose group ended the season with 16 straight wins. "They executed almost every play to perfection."
Michigan (31-8) was again led by Naismith Trophy winner Trey Burke, who scored 24 points despite playing just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
The Wolverines came out of the South Regional as a No. 4 seed and reached the final for the first time in 20 years. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard -- the group of players famously known as the Fab Five -- led the program to back-to-back title games in 1992 and '93.
All five were surprisingly in the building -- Webber has been disassociated from the university after his violations forced the school to vacate those Final Four appearances -- and they watched as the Wolverines gave the Cardinals all they could handle, especially early.
Unfortunately for Michigan, Louisville got quite used to adversity over the final month. The Cardinals rallied from 16 down in the Big East Tournament final to beat Syracuse, won the South Regional finale against Duke despite Ware going down with a gruesome injury, and overcame a 12-point deficit to Wichita State on Saturday.
They again trailed by a dozen when Spike Albrecht, a seldom-used freshman, came off the Wolverines' bench and scored all 17 of his points in the first half.
Albrecht had eight points on a 13-4 run that gave Michigan a 33-21 cushion before Hancock caught fire in the final four minutes.
"We were rolling there in the first half, but Louisville kind of went on a good run," Albrecht said.
Hancock drained four consecutive 3-pointers to pull the Cardinals within one, and Louisville took its first lead, 37-36, on the next possession as Siva hooked up with Montrezl Harrell for an alley-oop.
Glenn Robinson III's two free throws in the closing seconds gave the Wolverines a tenuous 38-37 lead at halftime, and the pace slowed down a bit in the second half, with neither side leading by more than five until the final five minutes.
Less than a minute after Mitch McGary, arguably Michigan's best player in the tourney, was whistled for his fourth foul, Smith made a contested jumper to give Louisville a 63-58 lead with 8:44 on the clock.
Burke showed Michigan wasn't going away by converting a three-point play, and the team's traded alley-oop slams a little later, with Robinson's thrown-down cutting the deficit to 67-64 with six minutes to play.
A few possessions later, the momentum swung, as Burke was called for a foul when he challenged Siva at the rim and appeared to come away with a clean block. But the whistle blew, and Siva made two at the foul line to start a 9-2 run that Hancock fittingly capped with a 3-pointer with 3:27 remaining.
"I thought I had all ball and timed it up pretty good," Burke said. "Unfortunately, you know, it didn't go that way."
Two free throws by Burke pulled the Wolverines within 76-70 with 2:24 to go, and at the other end Behanan had two layups rim out. However, Behanan ripped another rebound away from Caris LeVert and banked one in high off the backboard for two critical points.
The margin was four, 78-74, after Burke and Robinson each hit two free throws around a Smith turnover, and the Wolverines appeared to get the ball back when Siva missed a jumper with under a minute to play. But LeVert stepped out of bounds after grabbing the rebound, and the Cardinals made enough free throws to come away victorious.
The basket was lowered after the game so as to allow the inured Ware the chance to ceremoniously cut down the nets.
"It was a big motivator for us just for the simple fact I think Kevin Ware would do anything to be back out there," Behanan said. "We were all locked in for him, ourselves, our coaching staff, also for our fans and our family. Kevin was a big part of this team."
Louisville also won the title in 1980 ... Louisville forced 12 turnovers and committed only nine ... Siva also had five assists and four steals ... Robinson and Tim Hardaway Jr. each scored 12 points for Michigan ... McGary had six points and six rebounds after averaging 16.0 points and 11.6 boards in the five previous tourney games ... Michigan fell to 1-5 all-time in the NCAA final, the only win coming in 1989.