Kevin Ware’s emotional cries of ‘just go and win the game’ on the night that Louisville defeated Duke to reach the Final Four have stuck with each Cardinals player for good.
At the end of a thrilling national championship game where Louisville defeated the Michigan Wolverines 82-76, it was Ware who carried on the age-old tradition by cutting the net at the Georgia Dome with the help of his team-mates in one of basketball’s great moments.
While the talk might have been about Ware in the build-up to the Final Four, there was one unlikely player who grabbed the headlines at the end of it with two virtuoso performances.
Luke Hancock saved his best performance on college basketball’s grandest stage by hitting 22 points, including five three-pointers off the bench, en route to a Most Outstanding Player award of the Final Four to lead the Cardinals to victory.
Michigan will feel hard done by though, down 67-64 with 5:09 left, Trey Burke got what seemed to be a clean block on Louisville’s Peyton Siva in transition. But the block was adjudged to be a foul. Siva, who got 18 points and six assists on the night hit both free throws, which began a 7-2 run that the Wolverines could not recover from.
From that point on, it was the Siva and Hancock show as they steered Louisville to their first national title since 1986 and capping off an amazing week for coach Rick Pitino. Elected to the Hall of Fame, his horse competing in the Kentucky Derby and his son getting a full-time coaching job. Pitino though has to keep a promise that he made to his players if they won the national title: He’s getting a tattoo, albeit reluctantly.
For periods in the game though, Pitino’s inking looked destined to fall one game short as Michigan started the brighter of the two teams and thanks to their unlikely hero Spike Albrecht. The notorious bench warmer looked comfortable in his surroundings and even though he averaged a point a game, Albrecht was the main factor in the Wolverines’ 28-19 lead with 8:13 of the first half remaining.
Albrecht hit 17 points, but played the supporting role to Burke, who led with 24. They unfortunately were unable to stop the Cardinals second half onslaught.
With the Michigan ‘Fab 5’ in attendance, the number four seed looked good and their lead peaked at 35-23 with 3:23 left thanks to a bucket inside from Tim Hardaway Jr.
Louisville hit back though to reduce the deficit to 38-37 at the half. A mix of patient build-up play and solid execution was key to their strong end of half finish.
From there, it took the first possession of the second half to give the Cardinals the lead, a three from Wayne Blackshear, off a feed from Siva sent the students in the red section of the Georgia Dome wild.
The lead changed hands on a few occasions, as both teams kept up the intensity, but with Louisville’s number one fan sat on the bench, on crutches, they would reach the finish line and celebrate an emotional win.
For a second year, the NCAA title stays in Kentucky, but this time in Louisville, not Lexington.