ATLANTA -- We'll see your Spike, and raise you a Hancock. And raise the national championship plaque.
Louisville survived a shocking 17-point first-half shooting onslaught from Michigan reserve guard Spike Albrecht, thanks in large part to 16 points (with four quick threes) from their reserve, Luke Hancock. The Cardinals then rode a consummate team performance in the second 20 minutes and took the title in a pulsating 82-76 win over Michigan. It's the third national title for the school, and second for Rick Pitino, who becomes the first head coach to win national championships with two different schools.
The Cardinals have looked the part of the best team in the nation for the better portion of two months, but for the first 15 minutes Monday night, Michigan looked like the superior team. And while starting point guard Trey Burke won a bundle of national player of the year awards, Albrecht looked like the country's best player. Burke struggled with some early foul trouble, but that didn't slow the Wolverines at all as Albrecht had the best half of his life.
The freshman, whose prior career high was seven points, made all four threes he attempted on the way to his 17 points. Michigan had as much as a 12-point lead, but Hancock replied in quick fashion, ripping four straight triples of his own from nearly the same spot on the floor, and the Cardinals entered the break down by only a point.
After the intermission, the Cardinals found the kind of offensive balance and efficiency that makes them extremely difficult to beat. Starting guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith started making a few shots and getting into the lane, and big men Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng imposed their will on the smaller Wolverines. Behanan entered the game with what looked like a favorable physical matchup with Glenn Robinson III, and he scored nine quick points to help stake the Cardinals to a lead they never gave up.
Hancock led the Cardinals with 22 points on just six field goal attempts. Siva ended up with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. The frontcourt combo of Dieng and Behanan combined for 23 points, 20 rebounds (12 offensive) and seven assists. Burke concluded the night with 24 points to lead the Wolverines. Albrecht didn't score after the break, finishing with 17. Michigan shot 52.1 percent in the loss. In the end, the hyped matchup between the nation's most efficient offense and defense went the way of the Wolverines, but Louisville dominated the showdown between the lesser forces in the game, scoring over 1.20 points per possession despite only forcing 12 Michigan turnovers. Louisville only scored at that rate or better eight other times this season, going 8-0 in those games. They made it nine in the Georgia Dome in very impressive fashion, bringing title joy to the red section of the Commonwealth.