The Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, in Monday night's NCAA championship game, making Louisville coach Rick Pitino the first coach in college basketball history to win a title at multiple schools.
But though this weekend was a memorable one for Pitino, who was also elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday, these games are won and lost on the court—not the bench.
It didn't have the thrilling, last-minute finish some had anticipated (and all had hoped for), but Monday's game was probably among the best championship games ever. It was certainly one of the most well-played.
With so many memorable performances to choose from, it was hard sifting down to only four.However, despite the pristine overall quality of the basketball, this quartet stood out above the rest:
1. Luke Hancock, Louisville
What can you say about Luke Hancock that hasn't already been said?
The Cardinals' junior has always exemplified leadership, and although that was never in doubt, his ability to compete at a high level sometimes was. Not anymore. Not after what we just saw in the past 72 hours.
To be as frank as possible, Hancock saved this game—and, depending on how you appraise it, this season—for the Louisville Cardinals. They were on life support during Spike Albrecht's shooting salvo, and nobody else seemed willing (or capable) of stopping the bleeding.
That's not all Hancock did, either. He stopped the bleeding, stitched up the wound, then injected some sort of stem cell that made his team stronger than ever. With 14 consecutive points in the first half over a paltry two-minute, 25-second span, he almost single-handedly turned an 11-point deficit into a one-point lead.
From there, Louisville was able to get back on its feet and counterpunch.
Sounds like a worthy MOP to me.
2. Spike Albrecht, Michigan
Why exactly was Luke Hancock's contribution so necessary? Easy—Spike Albrecht.
The baby-faced (and -bodied) freshman came off the bench for Michigan to put on a show in the first half, scoring 17 points while teammate Trey Burke withered away on the sideline. He made his first four three-point attempts of the game en route to that number, pushing his total to 9-for-9 at that point in the tournament.
Who's to say what would have happened if Burke never got into foul trouble. Albrecht wouldn't have been Twitter-famous for 20 minutes of game-time, but we can't know for sure how the outcome would have changed. Maybe Burke wold have gotten just as hot?
All we know is what we saw on the court. From what we saw Monday night, despite an underwhelming second half, Albrecht was the second-best player on the court.
3. Chane Behanan, Louisville
Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht traded scoring blows in the first half, but both cooled off considerably down the stretch, or at least got less involved offensively.
Either way, my point remains the same. When push came to shove in the minutes known as "winning time," other guys needed to step up.
No one came more prepared for "winning time" than Chane Behanan.
One of the most pervading narratives going into Monday's game was that of Mitch McGary. "How does Louisville plan on guarding Michigan's dominant, freshman big man?"
Thanks to Behanan, the inverse question should have been asked—what was McGary's plan for stopping Louisville?"
At those times where Hancock and Albrecht struggled, the scrappy, albeit slightly undersized, Louisville forward was probably the best player on the floor Monday night. His will to win was unparalleled and when coupled with his wide, muscular frame, it made him a deciding factor on the glass.
No play did better justice to Behanan's night than one that started around the two-minute mark. With Louisville trailing by six and looking to ice the game, he missed a contested layup at the rim. He fought for a tip-in, but when the rebound resulted in a savage scrap for the ball on the ground with Michigan players slapping and hacking away like windmills, Behanan gripped it, ripped it and willed the ball back up onto the rim.
This time, it found its way down.
The result? An eight-point Louisville lead with just over 100 seconds left on the clock. Michigan would never seriously threaten again.
4. Peyton Siva, Louisville
Peyton Siva didn't have the finest shooting night of his career, but—excuse the cliche—he affected the game in so many ways that he didn't have to.
It was anything but a war of attrition in Atlanta and a lot of that had to do with how Siva managed tempo. Michigan is capable of playing at that sort of frenetic pace, but unlike Louisville, the Wolverines don't need to. Sure, the audience might have started a mutiny, but John Beilein would have been content with 'Michigan-Syracuse, Part Deux".
Siva, on the other hand, would not have been. He used his quickness to keep the game moving on both sides of the ball, collecting four steals and wreaking general havoc in the lane all evening.
He didn't score enough points or break enough records to go down as one of college basketball's true "greats", but Siva was a whole lot of fun to watch, and he won a lot of games during his esteemed career.
That should cement him a spot among college basketball's "very goods."
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