Subscribe to Fourth Estate Watch our YouTube Channel Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook

Louisville takes home men’s trophy

Jacob Westendorf, Sports Writer/Commentary
April 17, 2013
Filed under Sports

After a month of thrilling upsets and buzzer-beaters there was finally a game to decide who would be the nation’s champion. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament resulted in a matchup for the national championship that would be the Louisville Cardinals against the Michigan Wolverines.

The Cardinals, led by head coach Rick Pitino, returned to the national championship game, seeking its first title since 1986. Russ Smith, arguably the best player in the tournament, led Louisville to the final game. Smith’s play all season earned him the nickname “Russdiculous,” and he didn’t disappoint in the tournament. Going into the final game, Smith scored 20 or morepoints in every tournament game.

Along with Smith was the steady play of senior leader Peyton Siva, who led the way within the Cardinals pressure defense.

Michigan advanced to the final game for the first time since 1993 when the Fab-Five, led by former NBA stars Jalen Rose and Chris Webber, lost to North Carolina. This season’s team was similar to the team from 1993, as they were led by stellar guard play with National Player of the Year Trey Burke, who spearheaded the offensive attack.

Michigan surprised the college basketball world by inserting Mitch McGary into the starting lineup for the first game of the tournament. He stepped up and gave Michigan a presence in the paint they didn’t have during the regular season.

Burke, winner of the Wooden Award, which is given to college basketball’s most outstanding player, started the game hitting his first three shots, leading to seven early points for the Wolverines. Freshman guard Spike Albrecht, who made all of his 3-pointers coming into the game, hit three more early to complement Burke’s ability to get to the basket.

Louisville started slow, especially offensively, with Smith making just one of his first eight shots. Siva struggled to facilitate the pick-and-roll offense that worked so well during the games leading up to the championship. Louisville, which is usually one of the better rebounding teams in the country, allowed seven offensive rebounds for Michigan early in the first half that contributed to an early deficit for the Cardinals.

Burke picked up his second foul with more than 12 minutes to play in the first half, but Albrecht picked up the slack, scoring five points and facilitating the offense in Burke’s absence. Albrecht’s play led to a 13-4 run that gave Michigan a sizeable lead with Burke sitting the remainder of the first half.

Just when it seemed like Michigan was going to pull away early, Luke Hancock scored 11 points in the final three minutes and made a key defensive play to spark a 14-1 run. Michigan led 38-37 at halftime.

The second half began with both teams attempting to establish the tempo from the first half. A surprise to many, Smith began the second half on the bench, but Louisville had foul trouble early as its star from the first half, Hancock, picked up his third foul with 18:32 remaining in the half, forcing Smith to re-enter the game.  After sitting out most of the first half, Burke returned with a vengeance, hitting his first shot and getting an assist, forcing Pitino to use an early timeout in the second half.

Following the timeout, Louisville regained its composure under the leadership of Siva, and a back-and-forth game continued. CBS commentator Clark Kellogg summed the first 25 minutes up perfectly.

“This is a playground game being played on the biggest stage, worthy of a championship,” Kellogg said.

The teams continued to trade buckets, led by point guards Siva and Burke. At the four-minute mark, Louisville led 71-65.

Hancock drilled a 3-pointer that put Louisville up 10 at the three-minute mark, but Burke refused to let his team go down easily. Burke scored four quick points, helping pull his team back within four with 1:20 remaining.

Ultimately, Siva’s play was too much as he stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Siva ended the game with two free throws with less than 20 seconds remaining as Louisville ran out the clock.

Along with being the team’s leading scorer, tying a career-high with 22 points, Hancock was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

The win gave recently inducted hall-of-famer Pitino his second national championship — his first since winning one with Louisville’s rival Kentucky in 1997. By winning his second championship against Michigan, Pitino joined an elite group of coaches. Pitino joined the likes of John Wooden, Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski, each of whom won their second national championship against the Wolverines.

Along with all the other accolades, Louisville’s win helped Pitino become the first coach to win a national championship at two different schools. On top of it all, following the game, Pitino promised his players he would get a tattoo to commemorate this team’s championship as a way of showing how special these players are to him.

In a tournament that gave its fair share of great games, the championship game was one of the best in a long time. With giants like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas knocked out, ultimately, Louisville was the last team standing.