Keeping Score

NCAA Title Game: How Louisville Refused To Lose

Led by Luke Hancock's cool hand, Louisville won its first national title since 1986

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Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

Luke Hancock, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 Final Four, cuts down the nets after Louisville beat Michigan 82-76 in the national championship game, in Atlanta.

Bill Hancock, father of the Most Outstanding Player of this year’s Final Four, Luke Hancock, sat quietly in the first row of the thundering Georgia Dome after his son won the national championship. Bill has a serious ailment –- the family hasn’t disclosed the exact nature of it – but that couldn’t stop him from smiling.

Luke had transferred from George Mason to Louisville, and had two shoulder surgeries; someone asked Bill and one of Luke’s brothers, Will, if they ever pictured the scene unfolding in front of them: Hancock and his teammates soaking up a national title after Louisville’s thrilling 82-76 win over Michigan. “I don’t think we ever imagined this,” says Will. He turned to his father. “Did we?” Bill shook his head. “No. No,” Will says. “I would say not.”

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Hancock’s heroics – 22 points off the bench, including four three-pointers late in the first half that kept Louisville in the game – made him the first sub to ever win the most outstanding player trophy, and gave Louisville its first national title since 1986, and third in total. For the second consecutive year, the top overall seed won it all: the title also makes Louisville’s Rick Pitino the first coach to ever win championships with two different schools (he took Kentucky to the championship in 1996).

What an electric night in Atlanta. College sports needed a game like this, a few hours to forget about all the ailments: a game-changing lawsuit, botched investigations, crazy coaching antics being parodied on Saturday Night Live, and conference realignments that are destroying rivalries and traditions. In a season marked by scoring declines, and some downright ugly play, the national title game featured some epic alley-oops, a ferocious Tim Hardaway Jr. dunk, fierce blocked shots, hustle that sent players thumping to the floor, and beautiful shooting – 16 three pointers in all. The effort was exhausting. The only thing the game was missing was a buzzer-beater, as Louisville pulled away down the stretch.

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Michigan’s Spike Albrecht, a 5’11” freshman backup guard whose only other scholarship offer out of prep school was from Appalachian St., scored 17 first-half points on four three-pointers. “For him to take over the game like that,” says Hancock, “That takes . . .guts.” Hancock clearly wanted to use an alternative word, which was hardly a surprise considering that Albrecht was only averaging 1.8 points a game and hadn’t scored more than seven all season.

Guts, brass ones, whatever – Albrecht’s display was stunning.  “It was surreal to say the least,” says one of Albrecht’s high school teammates, Evan Cummins, now a basketball player at Harvard. “When he hit the third one, I was in tears. Just laughing and crying – unbelievable.” Michigan was up, 38-37 at the break though had been leading by 12 at one stage. In the second half, however, Albrecht returned to form; he missed his only two shots, and turned the ball over twice.

All tournament long, critics have harped on the officiating, and a questionable call had a huge impact Monday night. With just over five minutes left and Louisville leading 67-64, Peyton Silva went up for a dunk; Michigan’s Trey Burke, the national player of the year who struggled with foul trouble in the first half, but still finished with 24 points, met Siva in mid-air, and snuffed the ball. The play appeared clean, but the refs blew the whistle. Siva hit both free throws, and over the next two minutes, Louisville would build its lead to eight points. “I tried to time it up,” says Burke. “I knew he was going to try to dunk. I guess the ref thought it was a foul. I thought I had all ball … I think that was a turning point.” Michigan never recovered.

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Right before the game’s official end, Siva, knowing the title was in hand, strutted to the sideline. “Let’s go,” he screamed. “Let’s go.” Hancock stood near half court, and pumped his fist four times: “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” He hugged Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, and Chane Behanan. Then the buzzer sounded, the fireworks erupted (indoors=always scary) and the confetti fell – Siva grabbed the Louisville flag from the pep squad and stared waving it around. The net was lowered so Kevin Ware could cut it down. Hancock watched himself on “One Shining Moment,” which played in the dome as well as on television, and shared hugs with his dad and the rest of his family. “There’s really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here,” Hancock says. “It’s hard to put into words.”

He high-fived the band, and took a picture with them on the court. “Ya’ll were awesome,” Hancock said.

So was he. And Louisville is the national champion.

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