While there is no denying Louisville, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, has out played opponents all season, one must ask the question: Did Louisville straight out win the National Championship or did the newest version of the Fab Five in the Michigan Wolverines lose?
Up by 12 points near the end of the first half, the Wolverines looked like the more complete team. Michigan was scoring points from all angles, including 17 points from backup point guard Spike Albrecht, while the National Player of the Year Trey Burke sat most of the early period because of foul trouble.
Lead by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, Louisville looked like the stage may have been too big with star player Russ Smith, who led the tournament in scoring by averaging over 20 points in every game, struggling from the field. Then it happened.
As poised and calm as he’s been all tournament long, Luke “Smooth” Hancock put his team on his back and showed true leadership. Hancock got the Cardinals’ party started by knocking down four 3-point baskets, and causing havoc on the defensive end with two steals to bring the Cardinals to within one point of a now-slumping Wolverines team at halftime.
The Wolverines didn’t know what hit them. Here they were playing fundamental basketball, displaying great ball movement, shooting high percentage shots, rebounding and playing good team defense. But in an instant all of that it was wiped away. Michigan Coach John Beilein didn’t seemed bothered by the fact that his team lost their large lead heading into the half or that they lost something more important: momentum.
On the other side of the sidelines, Pitino proved why this is his second school to win a national championship. Pitino could be seen motivating his team and strategizing, knowing that his players hadn’t even begun to play their best basketball. In a questionable decision, Pitino benched Smith coming back from half time.
Putting the ball in senior point guard Peyton Siva’s hands, running the pick in roll was a brilliant move by Pitino. This allowed his Siva, who also was struggling bit, to gain confidence. That confidence spiraled to the rest of the team. All of a sudden, you could see the Cardinals playing better collectively on defense, grabbing offensive rebounds and knocking down jump shots.
Back playing in the second half, Burke, a sophomore at Michigan, wasn’t going to allow his team to go out without a fight. Burke scored 24 points in the game, including dropping a couple long-bomb treys from the outside. However, without much contribution from his teammates, especially junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who had problems finding his shooting rhythm all night, going one-on-five against the Cardinals wasn’t going to be enough.
Louisville slowly pulled away from the Wolverines. Michigan, being the youngest team to start the tournament this season, saw their national championship hopes snatched away in an 82-76 defeat.
Dennis Freeman is a college student and a photojournalist. His porfolio includes shooting photos for Sacramento City College, covering the Sacramento Lions of the United Football League and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Dennis is a native of the Bay Area and resides currently in Sacramento where he does freelance photography. He is recently engaged and a proud father of his young son Elijah.