since he got in office.
No. 1 at the Start, and No. 1 at the Finish
By GREG BISHOP
ATLANTA Behind the Louisville bench, those in cardinal red
remained on their feet in the final minutes, unable to sit down,
or feel comfortable, or breathe. Peyton Siva drove and Gorgui
Dieng swatted and Luke Hancock launched 3-pointers. Here was
Louisville, the top seed in this N.C.A.A. tournament, playing
like it until the end.
As the national championship unspooled Monday night, Louisville
and Michigan put on a show, a production worthy of a stage, with
acrobatics and dramatic flair, with stars in their usual roles
and understudies in starring ones, with bodies that thudded when
they hit the floor after so many collisions at the Georgia Dome.
It was Cirque du Soleil for the hoops set.
Louisville pulled from many elements, from its press and its
pressure, from its outside marksmanship and its balanced
scoring. The Cardinals (35-5) came from behind and seized
control as the second half wore on. They ultimately triumphed,
82-76, as those fans danced and waved red towels and finally
With that, a college basketball season as chaotic as any in
recent memory ended, at once oddly and predictably, in favor of
These are the 13 toughest guys I ve ever coached, said Rick
Pitino, officially a Hall of Famer now, before he revealed that
he promised them he would get a tattoo if they triumphed on
Bring on the ink perhaps Louisville 4-eva across the chest.
The players left the bench in the final seconds and stood on the
elevated court. At the end of the scrum stood guard Kevin Ware,
who broke his leg earlier in this tournament, propped up on
crutches, as confetti rained down on the court. Out came the
championship hats and T-shirts, the black Louisville banner, the
stage for One Shining Moment. Siva grabbed the flag and
carried it around the court.
These are my brothers, Ware said on stage. I m so proud of
So many elements. Hancock scored 22 points and earned most
outstanding player honors while his father, who Yahoo Sports
reported had a serious illness, watched from the stands. Pitino,
who became the first men s basketball coach to capture
championships with two Division I colleges, worked the sideline.
Siva, who once talked his father out of a suicide attempt,
swayed back and forth and sang along to every song, karaoke but
on a national stage.
The chosen few soon clustered on the court, as officials lowered
the basket and the Cardinals snipped at one net with scissors.
Dieng took his turn. So did another teammate. The basket was
then lowered even more, as the assembled whistled and clapped
and shed more than a few tears. Ware took the scissors and cut
himself some nylon and held the net high in his right hand.
There it was. Louisville s first men s basketball title since
Afterward, Siva wore a clip of the net attached to a hat he had
turned backward. Hancock carried the championship hardware with
him to the interview room. He talked about the path he took
there lightly recruited out of high school, from prep school
to George Mason to Louisville, all the way to Monday night, when
he became the first nonstarter to win most outstanding player
honors, according to research the N.C.A.A. said went back to
There s really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was
here, Hancock said. It s hard to put into words.
Michigan players climbed first atop the stage for interviews,
their eyes red, their faces glum. Their coach, John Beilein, had
reached the final after some 35 seasons, many of them spent at
the lower college levels. He called Monday night s locker room
the most emotional I ve ever seen.
Of Louisville, he added, I have not seen that quickness
anywhere, and we ve played some pretty good teams.
The first half unfolded with a series of surprises, the pace
frenetic, the play physical, each new twist as unlikely as the
one that had proceeded it. Guard Trey Burke, the national player
of the year in most quarters, scored Michigan s first 7 points.
Then the game got weird.
Then the freshman Michael Albrecht, just as the freshman Gerry
McNamara did for Syracuse against Kansas in 2003, turned the
first half into his own personal 3-point contest.
Known as Spike to those aware of his existence before Monday,
Albrecht connected on six shots from long range in the first
half. He drove inside for baskets, a gnat among the giants. He
took only seven shots and accumulated 17 points. He spelled
Burke, who missed much of the first half with two fouls. He
trended on Twitter, where he drew comparisons to Michael J. Fox
in the movie *** Wolf.
Here was a player listed at 5 feet 11 inches, a young man who
looked more like a student manager than a Spike, a guard who
did not score in 19 games this season and had one other
scholarship offer other than Michigan s from Appalachian
State. He bunny-hopped into the lane, dipped left, turned right
and laid the ball in for a 33-21 lead. His teammates surrounded
him at the timeout, slapped his shoulders, lifted him off the
That was probably back to my high schools days, Albrecht said.
Yet just when it seemed as if Monday would constitute the most
unlikely episode of Spike TV, the N.C.A.A. tournament version,
Hancock put on his best Albrecht impersonation late in the first
half. He closed the gap with four-consecutive 3-pointers.
That was how the first half went: the Spike and Luke show. Only
in the N.C.A.A. tournament.
Back and forth it went. Siva staked the Cardinals to a lead with
drive after drive, yielding 18 points in all. You need to dig
in, Pitino told him. He dug. Burke drove and scored and trimmed
the deficit. Siva elevated for a lob pass and laid the ball in.
Glenn Robinson III took another lob pass and slammed it down. If
this was not basketball of the highest quality, it was close.
Pitino lingered at the news conference. He talked about being
voted into the Hall of Fame earlier in the day, about his family
( we ve had a rough go ), and about Siva ( absolutely off-the-
charts awesome ) and his teammates. His first championship came
at Kentucky in 1996, before his N.B.A. struggles, before the
extramarital affair and the extortion attempt that followed,
before Pitino unleashed his latest hornet s nest of a defense on
college basketball this season.
I m absolutely amazed as a basketball coach, he said.
Now, about that tattoo. Siva suggested Pitino get one on the
He s a man of his word, Siva said, and they all laughed, the
coach and his team, now champions. Bring on the ink.