Fresh off his Hall of Fame induction, Louisville coach Rick Pitino brought his Louisville Cardinals into Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for one more game. And Monday night, that game was for all the marbles as the Cards played the Michigan Wolverines. Peyton Siva left it all on the court on his last game as a Cardinal and he led his team to cut down the nets as the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions 82-76.
The experts came out split on which team would come out victorious. Of the Michigan believers, they cited the play of Wolverine guard Trey Burke and freshman sensation Mitch McGary. The Louisville supporters talked about the best backcourt in America in Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. They also thought Gorgui Dieng would have a better game than he played against Wichita State on Saturday night.
Michigan drew first blood with Burke pouring in 7 early points, then Wayne Blackshear hit a 5 of his own. As two players who struggled in their respective semi-final games, it was clear what both teams wanted to establish. It wouldn’t last though.
Little knowns and scouted for Wolverine Spike Albrecht came off the bench and nailed 3 quick triples. Previous to this, he averaged 7 minutes and 2 points a game. Monday night he was on fire and finished the half with 17 points. He wouldn’t score again, though.
Burke ended up on the bench nursing two early fouls with 11 minutes to go in the half. That didn’t stop the Wolverines, though. With their star riding the pine, the created some separation going up by double digits at one point.
To take back control, Luke Hancock started to unload his magic from beyond the arc, nailing 3 triples in a row in about a minute to close the gap to 4. Then his fourth closed the gap to 1. After that a Montrezl Harrell ally-oop put the Cards on top right before halftime. However a couple of Wolverine free throws gave them a 38-37 halftime lead. Hancock answered Albrecht’s 17 points with 16 of his own.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton
Wayne Blackshear opened the second half with a three to continue the Louisville momentum. Conspicuous by his absence, though, was Russ Smith. He was benched at the beginning of the half until Hancock committed his third foul.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s Burke got himself back in the flow with a three. Earlier, he got pulled with foul trouble so early that the sweat had already dried.
You had to wonder about the floor at the Georgia Dome. Cardinal point guard Peyton Siva spent a lot of time slipping and sliding on his dribble, especially on his lane penetrations. Was moisture accumulating on the raised basketball court that situated over a football field? It happened against Wichita State at times, too.
And where Russ Smith wasn’t playing well, Chane Behanan started to find his comfort zone. He created shots, got putbacks and hit free throws like the Behanan from earlier in the season. With his best friend, Kevin Ware sitting out, if he was going to bring the trophy to his boy, he needed to do just that.
Freaky ref calls made the game “interesting” throughout. Harrell got called for a foul on a clean block. Earlier an intentional Michigan kicked ball went without a whistle. And this was supposed to be the best set of officials on the biggest stage. Actually, not so much.
So while that happened, the Wolverines were in the double-bonus while Michigan had “only” committed three fouls on Louisville to that point. One of them, though was from McGary who became a non-factor in the game after his starring role against Syracuse.
After a 10 point Louisville lead, the game tightened up to the point where the Wolverines were forced to foul and the Cards played smart by keeping the ball in the hands of the good free throw shooters. That meant the bonus finally came to the Cardinals. And it meant Hancock and Siva went to the line. And that’s that’s what closed the game. 2013 NCAA basketball champions: 82-76.
Siva put the team on his shoulders and finished with 18 points. Hancock put in 22. Luke was also voted most outstanding player of the Final Four and deservedly so.
So with a Sugar Bowl victory and NCAA basketball championship, could a ladies trophy come home Tuesday night? The Lady Cards take on UConn to see if that can happen.
Photo: Louisville.com/Tim Girton