Louisville has the national title to prove it.
Short-handed because of Kevin Ware’s broken leg, facing yet another big deficit and with their biggest star, Russ Smith, having a rare off night, the Cardinals simply went to the next guys up.
Luke Hancock made four consecutive 3-pointers late in the first half, single-handedly halting what was threatening to become a Michigan runaway, and Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan erupted for monster second halves to lead Louisville to an 82-76 victory that gave the Cardinals their third national title on Monday night.
“I’m just so happy for our team,” said Hancock, who had 22 points and was the first sub in tournament history to win Most Outstanding Player honors. “I’m happy that multiple guys got to contribute on this great run.”
Their affection was unmistakable as the Cardinals (35-5) celebrated among the falling confetti.
And when it came time to cut down the nets, it was Ware who was given the honor of removing the last strands. He stood in front of the basket as it was lowered to him.
“It’s not about me, I’ve never been that type of guy,” Ware said. “These are my brothers. They got the job done.”
The Cardinals don’t have the same collection of awe-inspiring talent as Rick Pitino’s first title team, the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats. But they are every bit as good a team, because of their bond and unselfishness.
“We beat a great basketball team probably because I have the 13 toughest guys I have ever coached,” he said.
Pitino headed to New Orleans to watch the Louisville women’s team play Connecticut in Tuesday night’s NCAA championship – but without his players.
Under NCAA rules, neither the school nor Pitino could pay for the players to get to New Orleans to attend the game. The NCAA says it granted a waiver to Louisville that would have allowed the school to pay for the trip, but the school says it had already made plans to go home.