The NCAA national championship game did a lot more than exceed expectations. With all the intrigue and excitement that highlighted each team’s tournament run, the title tilt was certainly one for the ages.
No. 1 Louisville completed its magical season with one of the most inspiring postseason runs in recent memory, besting No. 4 Michigan 82-76 in unbelievable fashion. Led by another incredible performance from junior swingman Luke Hancock, the Cardinals mounted a comeback from 12 points down in the first half to secure their first title since 1986.
Hancock delivered a 22-point performance off the bench on the heels of a 20-point showing in the Final Four against No. 9 Wichita State. Named Most Outstanding Player, the junior displayed the leadership and poise expected of Louisville’s co-captain.
Monday was also a big night for Rick Pitino, who became the only coach to win a national title with more than one team. His 662nd victory was the biggest of his career, especially after being selected to the Hall of Fame prior to the championship game.
The storylines are endless, but there’s plenty to recap from the game itself. With huge dunks, impressive three-point shooting and a number of momentum-shifting plays, we’ll be talking about this game for a long, long time.
Let’s take a look at the biggest plays from the game from start to finish.
Burke Heats Up
Sophomore guard Trey Burke had the game everyone expected, highlighted by 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc. Burke finished the night with a game-high 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor.
The first five points of the game belonged to Michigan’s point guard, who opened things up with a jumper in the first 40 seconds and this three-pointer on the assist from Glenn Robinson III:
Burke made his first three shots, but he sat most of the first half with two fouls. His absence opened the door for Spike Albrecht to do some damage of his own.
Albrecht hadn’t scored more than seven points or played more than 15 minutes in any game in the tournament, but Burke’s foul trouble allowed him to play a huge part in Michigan’s impressive first half.
The diminutive freshman tallied 17 points off the bench in 28 minutes of action, hitting four of five three-point attempts. This one with just over 13 minutes left in the first half gave the Wolverines a 17-11 lead and a great deal of momentum:
Albrecht went on to hit another trey less than a minute later, and Michigan appeared firmly in control of their championship destiny.
Another Albrecht bucket put Michigan up by 12 with less than four minutes to play in the half, but Hancock took charge for the Cardinals. In the final 3:33 of the first frame, the Most Outstanding Player tallied 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting from behind the arc.
This trey with under a minute remaining pulled the Cardinals within one point of the lead at 36-35:
A pair of Robinson free throws gave the Wolverines a one-point lead going into the locker room, but there was a lot more action to follow.
Back Comes Burke
With fresh legs and three fouls to give, Burke came out firing in the second half, draining a three-pointer within the first three minutes of the frame to regain the lead for Michigan.
The Cardinals continued to keep the game close, and a Russ Smith three-pointer with 13:28 to play put his squad up by five at 52-47. Not to be outdone, Burke answered back with another three of his own:
The sophomore star battled, but Michigan wouldn’t retake the lead for the rest of the contest.
Momentum is a dangerous beast. Luckily for Louisville, it was able to keep control of the momentum for much of the second half.
Nothing punctuates a run quite like a big dunk, and senior guard Peyton Siva threw down one of the biggest of the night with this monster slam with just over six minutes remaining in the game:
Siva finished the game with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, picking up the slack for Smith. The Cardinals’ leading scorer in the tournament, Smith finished the game with just nine points on 3-of-16 shooting from the field.
A big game from Smith wasn’t necessary, though. Hancock made sure of that.
One Shining Moment
When the dust had settled, Louisville was crowned national champion and Michigan walked away from the Georgia Dome with a lot to think about.
The Wolverines played well, but they ran into a buzz saw in the title game. The Cardinals were the No. 1 overall seed for a reason, and they proved it on Monday.
College basketball fans couldn’t have asked for a better title tilt, however. In a tournament that featured a lot of sloppy play and uninspiring finishes, Louisville and Michigan provided a game we won’t soon forget.