The favorite coming into the NCAA tournament earned the title on Monday night with an 82-76 win over Michigan.
In one of the rare instances, Monday night's championship actually matched the anticipated hype. Both offenses pumped out points, defense seemed only optional at times, and unexpected stars rose to the occasion.
But, in the end, as they’ve done time and time again this tournament, the Cardinals stole the ball, the momentum and the championship, taking down Michigan with an 82-76 victory in Atlanta.
Here are the grades to the coaches and all key players after one of the most thrilling NCAA championships in recent memory.
Siva came alive in the second half, sparking Louisville’s 45-point second-half outburst.
He attacked the basket with masterful penetration, hounded Michigan’s ball-handlers on the full-court press, and more importantly, he put his teammates in excellent position to score.
Siva demanded Michigan’s attention, and in turn opened things up for the Cardinals role players. He hit Russ Smith on the wing, found Montrezl Harrell near the elbow, and fed Gorgui Dieng on the low block. In short, each player thrived thanks to Siva, who himself finished with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Not one of his five assists was prettier than the alley-oop lob he threw to Harrell, who hammered home a two-handed jam off a fast-break opportunity late in the first half.
Burke scored the Wolverines’ first seven points but two early fouls relegated him to spectator status as Spike Albrecht ran Michigan’s offense in the first half.
But once Burke got back on the court, he spearheaded Michigan’s offensive attack, doing everything he could to weather Louisville’s nonstop scoring.
He used high screens to get separation on the perimeter, attacked the lane and got to the foul line, finishing with 24 points but just three assists.
By the end, Michigan’s offense had deteriorated into Burke trying to take on all defenders, which, predictably, didn’t work. He still played marvelously on the offensive end, showing why he couldn't have been more deserving of this year's Wooden Award.
It took until the championship game, but Chane Behanan finally played up to his potential.
The 6’6’’ sophomore was tenacious on the glass, showed active hands on defense and played with the motor that he’s lacked at times this year.
He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and was crucial to Louisville’s victory, as he was the biggest mismatch for the Cardinals.
With Mitch McGary on Gorgui Dieng, the Wolverines were forced to play Glenn Robinson III on Behanan, and the sophomore forward took advantage. Behanan played with unbelievable effort all around, but late in the game, with Michigan wilting, he had a few massive second-chance points that put the game out of reach.
Spike Albrecht played like a man possessed, scoring 17 first-half points as star Trey Burke sat with early foul trouble.
Albrecht, who averaged 1.8 points in the season, hadn’t topped seven points all year and his 28 minutes on Monday night shattered his previous career high.
The 5’11’’ freshman nailed all four of his threes in the first half, finished floaters in the lane with the poise of a veteran, and handled the ball as the team’s primary point guard. Not bad for a guy who was only offered a scholarship by one other D-I school (Appalachian State).
For the second consecutive game, Luke Hancock came off the bench and carried the Cardinals offense.
Again, it was his three-point touch that saved Louisville in the first half and kept Michigan (and its surprise star) from running away early. Hancock drained all four of his first-half threes, which all came in one remarkable two-minute stretch toward the end of the period. He added a fifth three in the second half to go a perfect 5-of-5 from three.
Let’s also not forget how he baited Trey Burke into a questionable foul call that sent the national player of the year to the bench for more than 10 minutes. However, in retrospect, that may have been a bad idea given Albrecht’s unbelievable performance.
Tim Hardaway Jr. played a good all-around game, but his inefficiency on the offensive end (5-of-13) gave the Wolverines few other options down the stretch as Burke dominated the offense. However his right-handed tomahawk jam may have been the Wolverines' best offensive highlight of the night.
He finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, but he was one of the Wolverines’ few matchup advantages going up against the slower Luke Hancock, and he failed to fully exploit it. He was also 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, which put all the more pressure on Burke.
Dieng was the beneficiary of a number of second-half drives from Peyton Siva and saw most of his scoring come over the final eight-minute stretch.
Thanks to his vastly improved shooting, he consistently drew Michigan’s frontcourt away from the hoop and then showed off unbelievable vision, finishing with six assists (his second-highest total this season).
Of equal importance though, was his defense. He helped nullify Michigan’s upstart center Mitch McGary, and kept him from establishing any offensive rhythm in the block. He also frustrated Trey Burke anytime Michigan’s deft guard got into the lane. Dieng finished with three blocks to go along with eight points and eight rebounds.
The Wolverines needed more from Glenn Robinson III, even though his final offensive numbers (12 points on 3-of-4 shooting) were respectable.
The biggest difference in the game was Louisville’s frontcourt size. Chane Behanan dominated the offensive glass as Robinson struggled to contain his 250-pound frame. Outweighed by about 40 pounds, Robinson was nowhere near physical enough to compete with Behanan on the low block and finished with just two rebounds.
Wayne Blackshear will be one of the unsung heroes of Monday’s title game, but he was the one who got Louisville’s offensive charge rolling.
He scored Louisville’s first five points—a three-pointer from the left wing and a driving layup—and then came out and knocked down another three just 12 seconds into the second half. Although he only played 19 minutes, he played tough, stifling defense on Michigan’s perimeter players as well.
Nik Stauskas wasn’t the three-point threat that scorched Florida in the Sweet 16, and many of his minutes were taken up by reserves Albrecht and Caris LeVert.
He finished with just two shot attempts after averaging nearly eight throughout the season. He hit a three in the first half, but aside from that, was on the bench in lieu of the better defender, LeVert.
Russ Smith struggled so mightily that Rick Pitino actually benched him to start the second half.
He wasn’t nearly the scorer or attacker he's proven to be, but Siva more than made up for the Louisville backcourt.
Smith shot just 3-of-16 (1-of-6 from beyond the arc) and finished with just nine points—16 points less than his 25-point tournament average.
Mitch McGary was saddled with foul trouble midway through the second half and couldn’t provide the energy that’s boosted Michigan’s tournament run.
He was held to just six points and six rebounds, after averaging 16 points and 11.6 boards over the past five games. He was Michigan’s best shot at containing Louisville’s deep frontcourt, but foul trouble kept him from establishing any offensive flow and limiting the Cardinals rebounders.
Rick Pitino became the first coach to ever win two national titles with two different schools (Kentucky, 1996) with Monday night’s victory.
He ratcheted up the full-court pressure in the second half, which in turn allowed Louisville to dictate the pace against the Wolverines.
Pitino also made the decision to bench Russ Smith at the beginning of the second half, which not only allowed Peyton Siva to find his rhythm, but kept Smith out of foul trouble. Perhaps it was a halftime adjustment or just Siva’s instincts, but Pitino’s guards attacked the lane relentlessly in the second half and exposed Michigan’s lack of size.
It didn’t even matter if Siva finished the driving layups, as Behanan collected numerous second-chance boards.
With little backcourt depth, Pitino showed why he’s an excellent in-game coach, as he managed to keep his traditional backcourt, along with his stellar three-point shooter, in the game for as long as possible.
John Beilein’s squad played with unparalleled poise for a team that was one of the youngest in the country.
His decision to go deep into his bench paid off massively, as Spike Albrecht played the game of his life. It would’ve been one thing to let the freshman guard knock down a couple three-pointers and then go back to your proven stars before intermission, but Beilein showed immense trust in his young team.
His biggest problem was the Cardinals’ size, which no amount of coaching could’ve combatted. His only option was to play Jordan Morgan down low against Louisville’s bigs, but that would have jeopardized Michigan’s offensive balance.