Louisville showed its depth and Michigan did not show its youth, and those two elements carried the No. 1-seeded Cardinals and fourth-seeded Wolverines to Monday night’s NCAA Tournament championship game Monday night in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.
With reserve Luke Hancock providing 20 points off the bench, Louisville pulled out a 72-68 victory over surprising Wichita State to move the Cardinals to the last night of the season for the first time since 1978. Michigan, meanwhile, edged Syracuse 61-56 in a grind-it-out-game.
Neither win was easy.
It took three-pointers by little-used Tim Henderson, playing for injured Kevin Ware, to give Louisville some life when the Cards trailed by 12 in the second half. The Shockers looked to be headed for another upset. But Henderson’s shots charged Louisville and Hancock–and some tough defense–helped turn around the game.
The Cardinals outscored 37-21 in last 6:43 in an inspiring rally.
“I just kept telling the team, ‘This is a dogfight. . . And you’ve got to win the fight.”
“We just played super hard,” Cardinals guard Russ Smith, who led the Cardinals with 21 points despite a slow start. “Nobody wanted to go home.”
It did not look good for a long time Wichita State was better and more confident.
Louisville was struggling so badly that Ware actually got out of his seat at one point, hobbling over on his broken leg to the Louisville huddle.
“He just wanted to tell us that we needed to pick it up,” Siva said. “We know how much it would mean for him to be out there. He just tried to give us whatever we needed, the extra motivation, the extra boost to get over the hump. That’s what he did.”
Michigan, meanwhile, handled the vaunted Syracuse defense better than anyone has in the tournament, despite player of the year Trey Burke scoring just seven points on 1-for-9 shooting.
“We know Trey is our leader, and sometimes he’s not going to have a game like he’s had all season,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who led Michigan with 13 points. “That’s when our team stepped up.”
Trailing 58-56, the Orange had a chance to force overtime. But Brandon Triche was called for a foul when Jordan Morgan stepped in to take the charge with 19.2 seconds left.
“Jordan is our best charge-taker,” Beilein said. “He stood in there and took a good one.”
Michigan held on from there, as Syracuse, down by three, curiously did not attempt a trey in the last 12 seconds, instead going for missed layup. The Wolverines secured the rebound, a last-second dunk and the win.
“We’ve been a team all year,” said coach John Beilein, whose Wolverines were playing in the Final Four for the first time since 1993, when the Fab Five lost for the second straight time in the national title game. “It was great.”