Louisville Beats Michigan, 82-76, to Win National Championship

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IApril 9, 2013

With the entire world watching, Louisville outlasted Michigan, 82-76, in an absolute classic that will instantly go down as one of the best national championship games in a long time.

In what was the perfect way to end an unpredictable, thrilling season, this game had it all. It had under-the-radar bench players catching fire in the first half. It had the superstar point guards stepping up down the stretch. It had thundering alley-oop dunks. It had back-and-forth, scintillating action, and everyone but Rick Pitino's squad was disappointed to see it come to a finish.

But in the end, senior point guard Peyton Siva, who finished with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, controlled a nail-biting second half as the Cardinals held on for the win.

Luke Hancock, who kept the Cardinals close in the first 20 minutes, finished with a ridiculous 22 points on six field-goal attempts and was named Final Four MOP.

In perhaps the final collegiate game of his career, Wooden Award winner Trey Burke poured in 24 points in a spectacular, albeit losing, effort. 

The opening 17 minutes were the Spike Albrecht Show. 

With Burke out for most of the half with foul trouble, the 5'11" freshman—who entered the game averaging 1.8 points per game—lit the nets on fire, hitting six of his seven shots and all four of his three-point attempts en route to 17 points. 

But with three minutes remaining and the Wolverines up 12, Luke Hancock hit a three-pointer. Then he hit another one. Then he hit another one. Then he hit another one. 

Then Siva and Montrezl Harrell connected for this:

When the teams broke for the locker room, Albrecht had 17, Hancock had 16, both teams combined to shoot 57.9 percent from long range, Michigan led by one, at 38-37, and we had witnessed the greatest, most entertaining half of basketball all year. 

The second half was full of new stars, but the same enthralling action.

Siva and Burke showcased why they are two of the best floor generals in the country, making plays all over the court and trading jaw-dropping blows at the rim.

Louisville was able to get more from help from its role players, however, as Chane Behanan (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Gorgui Dieng (eight points, eight rebounds, six assists) controlled the offensive glass to keep the Cardinals ahead by a small margin for most of the second half. 

In the waning moments, the Cardinals knocked down their final free throws, Burke's late-game magic finally ran out and Kevin Ware and his teammates were able to cut down the nets as champions.

In a season that was defined by unpredictability and thrilling, down-to-the wire theatrics, one couldn't think of a more fitting, perfect national championship. 

If this was a sign of things to come for college basketball, the oft-criticized sport is in a very good place. 

Twitter Reaction

CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello tweeted this after a mere eight minutes of game time:

Jeff Borzello @jeffborzello

Spike Albrecht has already set a new career-high with nine points.

As such, it wasn't surprising that ESPN's Myron Medcalf came through with Albrecht's real initials:

Myron Medcalf @MedcalfByESPN

Spike's real name is Michael Joseph Albrecht, per Michigan media guide.

M.J. Albrecht finished with 17 points, which was 10 more than his previous career high. 

But Hancock wasn't to be outdone, and ESPN's Chad Ford summed up what makes college basketball so beautiful:

Chad Ford @chadfordinsider

Tons of NBA prospects on the floor & this one comes down to Spike Albrecht vs. Luke Hancock in the 1st half.

In the second half, however, it was the expected stars who began to rise to the occasion. Via ESPN's Fran Fraschilla:

Fran Fraschilla @franfraschilla

Like an NBA game in that no matter how good your defensive schemes are, great players beating them. Not keeping Burke and Siva out of lane!

Although Wolverines fans probably don't want to hear it, ESPN's John Gasaway had some nice parting words for Michigan:

John Gasaway @JohnGasaway

Michigan, I salute you! You lost at Penn State and then became a team that met the best defenses in Division I head-on and sent them home...

ESPN Stats & Info, meanwhile, noted that Pitino now sits in a class of his own:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Rick Pitino: 1st coach to win National Championship at 2 schools (also won with Kentucky in 1996)

In a truly inspirational, tear-jerking moment, Rush the Court gives us a look of the hoop being lowered for Ware to cut the net:

Rush the Court @rushthecourt

Goal lowered for Ware http://t.co/54Twj2KdTd

It's hard to imagine a more perfect way to end the season. Is it November yet?