As you know, the word classic is often overused in the world of sports. However, that was not the case on Monday as far Louisville’s 82-76 victory over Michigan in Monday’s 2013 NCAA Men’s Championship Game. It was a battle between two talented, but mentally tough opponents that left participants, as well as viewers, breathless.
After Louisville defeated Wichita State and Michigan knocked off Syracuse in Saturday’s semifinals games, you knew that the final was going to be a classic battle between a great offensive team and arguably the best defense in the land. This is why we love college basketball.
You had role players making significant contributions and stars stepping up when it counted. Michigan’s Spike Albrecht lit up that vaunted Cardinals defense for 17 points in the first half. Louisville’s Luke Hancock came off the bench and countered Albrecht’s play to score 14 points towards the end of the first half to turn a 12-point deficit into a one-point lead shortly before halftime. Then in the second half, the big named-boys turned to men.
After spending most of the first half on the bench with foul trouble, Trey Burke scored 17 points, and finished with 24 overall, showing more heart than the law allows. After experiencing a nondescript first half, Peyton Siva exploded in the second half, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists. Siva and Burke went back and forth, making spectacular plays after intermission. It got to the point where you could not take your eyes off of the action. The game was nip and tuck in the second half before Louisville pulled away late in the game.
I know that there were some questionable and/or missed calls by the referees and Michigan’s head coach Beilein made some questionable in-game decisions, but that should not take away from what was a great game.
It was great to see Louisville’s head coach receive his accolades this weekend and what a great weekend he had. First a horse that he owns qualified for the Kentucky Derby, then his son got the Minnesota head coaching job. Monday morning he was told that he was selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame and that evening he coached like a Hall of Famer, making all of the right moves to lead his squad a NCCA title. With the win, he became the first coach to win a title at two different schools, and is also the only coach to take three different schools, Kentucky and Providence being the other two, to the Final Four.
This man has seen the high of the highs and the low of lows. One of his players died during one of his practices while he was coaching at Boston University. He lost an infant son during that 1987 Providence Final Four Run. He lost his Brother-in-Law during the September 11, 2011, attacks and there was that infidelity case that nearly cost him his job at Louisville. So he deserved a week like this.
After the week the NCAA had with the Rutgers, Auburn and the Miami scandals college athletics also needed a game like this. Two big name programs playing at the highest level when the world was watching. Monday’s championship game was what college athletics should be all about.