By RICKY LINDSAY, Michigan Basketball Beat Reporter
The Louisville Cardinals started an incredible run for a championship after sophomore guard Kevin Ware broke his leg in the Elite 8 against Duke. With the inspiration to win in support of their injured teammate, the Cardinals regrouped to overcome an early deficit in the national championship game to outplay the Michigan Wolverines in the second half, leading to the third national title in program history with 82-76 victory.
With a record crowd of 74,326 around them, the Wolverines and Cardinals traded blows during the first five minutes of the game before Michigan raced to a 12-point lead with hot shooting. The Cardinals completed a first-half rally, cutting Michigan’s lead to one at halftime.
Louisville entered the second half with a hot start, taking the lead with 13 minutes remaining and never looking back, outscoring the Wolverines 45-38 with the national championship on the line.
The Wolverines’ first half belonged to a freshman named Spike Albrecht. The guard became a fan favorite after several emotional displays throughout the NCAA Tournament, scored a career high 17 points on 6-9 from the field.
Albrecht’s incredible rise to popularity occurred in the NCAA Tournament, something that seemed bleak when he was at a prep school. His only scholarship offers were from Appalachian State and Michigan. He is expected to compete for the starting point guard position should Trey Burke decide to leave for the NBA.
Luke Hancock mirrored the role of Albrecht for the Louisville Cardinals. The junior role player who averaged 7.7 points per game in the regular season was the Cardinals’ hero in the clutch, scoring a team high 22-points on 5-6 from the field, including 7-10 on free throws.
Hancock, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, finished 5-5 on three point attempts, becoming the first player in national title history to go better than 3-3 from three.
In what could be his final game for the Wolverines, sophomore phenom Trey Burke, the National Player of the Year, scored 24-points in the loss. Should Burke decide to leave for the NBA Draft, he is expected to be a top ten pick.
Mitch McGary, the Wolverines’ tournament hero, struggled on the big stage in the national championship. McGary scored six points and grabbed six rebounds as the Cardinals were able to figure out how to stop his dominance.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III scored 12-points each in the loss. Both players will decide their future in the coming weeks, as Robinson III is expected to be a late first rounder, while Hardaway Jr. could land somewhere in the second round.
The Cardinals were led by senior guard Peyton Siva and sophomore forward Chane Behanan. Siva scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds, while Behanan got the only double-double of the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Michigan guards’ Albrecht and Burke were named to the All-Tourney team, while Hancock and Siva of Louisville joined them for the honors.
With the win, Louisville became the eighth NCAA school to win at least three men’s basketball championships. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino became the first coach to win a national championship at two schools.
With the loss, the Wolverines will look to rebound around star players that choose to return to Ann Arbor next season. Albrecht, McGary, and Nik Stauskas, three freshmen that were apart of the Fresh Five, are expected to see significant roles next season. The Wolverines are a 20-1 favorite to win the national title in 2014.