Louisville guard Peyton Siva (3) and Michigan guard Trey Burke (3) work during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 8, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) ORG XMIT: FF212
ATLANTA — The stakes were higher for Louisville.
The Cardinals were the overall No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. Rick Pitino, who had been named to the Basketball Hall of Fame earlier in the day, was the mentor who had a chance to stand alone as the only coach to guide two different schools to the national championship.
The rewards were nearly as monumental on Monday night for Michigan, the first No. 4 seed to play in the championship game since Arizona won it all in 1997.
Whether they realized it or not, the Wolverines were carrying a banner for the entire Big Ten, which has only won one national championship since Michigan last won in 1989. A victory would have eased the disappointment of the recruiting cloud that vacated its 1992 and ’93 Final Four appearances.
When it comes to the one-and-done Big Dance, though, there’s no room for missteps.
Michigan has nothing to be ashamed of, but some things to be disappointed about it after holding an early 12-point lead.
Looking like the more experienced team, which it was, Louisville cranked up the intensity in the second half and defeated the young Wolverines 82-76 to win its first national championship since 1986.
‘‘We beat a great basketball team,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘I had the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached. All through my life, I’ve had great players. Players put coaches in the Hall of Fame.’’
Michigan took it to Louisville for a time, opening a 33-21 lead, but the Cardinals roared back, leaving the Wolverines clinging to a 38-37 halftime lead.
When Trey Burke (game-high 24 points), the national player of the year, went to the bench with two fouls, the situation looked ominous. But the Wolverines simply rolled out their secret weapon: Spike Albrecht, the 5-11 freshman from Crown Point, Ind., who scored all 17 of his points in the first-half.
Albrecht, whose career high had been only seven points, went 4-for-4 from three-point range. He even went to the basket twice—and he doesn’t look old enough to drive.
Down 12 less than four minutes before halftime, the Cardinals answered back with authority. Sixth-man Luke Hancock, the hero of Louisville’s rally to beat Wichita State on Saturday, poured in three-pointers on four straight trips down the floor. Hancock led Louisville with 22 points, 16 coming before halftime.
‘‘[It’s about] the heart of this team,’’ said Hancock, named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. ‘‘We just went into war against a great Michigan team. We needed a rally. We’ve been doing it a couple games straight, being down. We just had to wait and make our run.’’
A transition dunk by Montrezl Harrell put Louisville on top 37-36 with 21 seconds left, pumping Cardinals’ fans into a frenzy and setting the stage for a big-time finish to the college basketball season.
Beyond the implications, both teams were intent on making the most of this opportunity as the last two teams standing in the one-and-done crapshoot known as the NCAA tournament.
This has been quite a week for Pitino. His son, Richard, was named basketball coach at Minnesota. A racehorse he co-owns, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby to become a Kentucky Derby favorite. And he’s in the Final Four for the seventh time, with a chance to add a shining moment to the national championship he won in 1996 while at Kentucky. Louisville was seeking its title since 1986.
But this has been quite a month for Michigan. A No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines took their No. 4 seed in the Big Dance and ran with it. They were a popular pick to lose to VCU, a virtual lock to fall to Kansas and not expected to cope with Syracuse’s zone.
Surprise. The Wolverines handled all of those challenges. Until it ran into Louisville.