The week heading into the national championship game was very well documented for Rick Pitino.
The Louisville head coach was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame hours before playing Michigan in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, his son Richard inked a deal to coach a prominent Minnesota program, and the horse he has an ownership stake in, Goldencents, earned a berth in the Kentucky Derby.
However, the magic of the week that was would have lost a certain level of wonder had Pitino’s team not completed its dream run in the annual NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament.
Like any fairytale ending, it didn’t.
Louisville capped a fantastic season by winning a hard fought final against underdog Michigan, 82-76.
“It was an exceptionally exciting game,” said Humber College athletic director Doug Fox. “Having role players perform so well in the first half was a really neat phenomenon before the stars took over in the second half.”
Louisville swing-man Luke Hancock tallied another 20+ point performance off the bench for the Cardinals, going a clutch 5-5 from three-point range.
He scored 14 consecutive points for the Kentucky-base Louisville, turning a deficit of 12 into a one-point lead late into the first half.
The sharpshooting role player was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, the first reserve to ever receive the honour.
Firsts were a minor theme following the title game, as Rick Pitino also became the only coach to ever win a national title at two different schools.
“Probably because I’ve got the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” Pitino told fans over the P.A. in a post-game interview.
Following Hancock’s heroics to keep the Cardinals alive in the first half, the starters elevated the team to a lead they would not relinquish later into the second half.
The victory is one not only for Pitino and the basketball program, but also for the school itself.
“In their case, it’s notoriety,” said Fox. “It helps with recruiting as they continue to build their program, but it also brings huge amounts of money from alumni, so it actually helps out the whole school.”
Upstart Michigan boasted three freshmen, a sophomore, and junior among its starting five, and the young nucleus is expected to have the Wolverines name on many tongues next season.
Although the team very well could suffer the loss of star point guard Trey Burke to the NBA, CBS Sports blogger Jeff Borzello supports the theory.
“Is Michigan the favorite to win a title next season? No, but they are going to be in the conversation as a Final Four contender.”
Through the copious amounts of story lines available for interested fans and readers to buy into, the game itself was memorable and excited 74,326 fans in attendance – the biggest crowd in championship game history.
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