The Louisville Cardinals defeated the Michigan Wolverines 82-76 on Monday night in Atlanta, capturing the NCAA Division I basketball championship. It marked the first title for the Cardinals since 1986 and their third ever championship. The biggest story for Cardinals basketball, however, is the uplifting and gruesome story of sophomore Kevin Ware.
Ware suffered a compound fracture in the Elite Eight game versus Duke, the game leading to the Final Four. The injury was so graphic that CBS stopped replaying the incident as Ware lay motionless on the sideline. A shaken Cardinals team used the incident as a motivator, according to head coach Rick Pitino, who recalled that Ware told his teammates to just “win the game” despite the career-jeopardizing injury.
Ware’s story had an impact on viewers, becoming the underlying story behind the Cardinals championship season. It fueled his teammates to an explosive comeback against Duke and then the Michigan Wolverines.
Both teams started the game hot, going back and forth throughout the game. Michigan’s Trey Burke, the Naismith National Player of the Year, started out scoring the team’s first five points before sitting due to foul trouble. Even players off the bench pushed their teams, clocking strong minutes. Michigan’s freshman guard, Spike Albrecht, was key to his team’s early success. Normally averaging less than two points per game, Albrecht scored 17 points in 20 minutes off the bench, including four 3-pointers. His performance caught all of Louisville by surprise, including Pitino, who at halftime said, “Where did that guy come from?”
Both ends contributed complete offensive performances in the championship game, yet each team stormed the court with tremendous energy. Hard fouls occurred frequently, and players wearing opposite jerseys commonly sprawled out on the hardwood court to catch the loose ball.
After the first half, there was no clear advantage for either side after a 38-37 Michigan lead. The only advantage Michigan held in the first half came from second-chance points and offensive rebounds, which came to an end in the second half. Louisville held Michigan to one offensive board and two second-chance points in the second half. Louisville, on the other hand, stayed in the game and took the lead off constant second-chance baskets, grabbing 11 offensive boards.
The Cardinals received help from junior swingman Luke Hancock, who led the team with 22 points. Peyton Siva, the senior co-captain, drove into the Wolverines’ big men and scored 18 points. It was ultimately the Cardinals group effort that led them to being crowned National Champions.
Pitino won his second championship, becoming the first coach to ever win with two different teams. This marks quite the week for Pitino, after he was elected into the Hall of Fame days earlier. Pitino also promised his players that he would get a tattoo if they pulled out a victory on Monday.
There were so many headlines surrounding the Louisville championship run, but no other moment can capture the bittersweet moment of Ware cutting down the last piece of the net in Atlanta.