Then I’ll wonder, isn’t it like this with all champions? Especially in the amateur ranks?
Were there more stories here than usual, more heartbreak overcome, more obstacles hurdled, a more unusual and interesting gang than the usual title contingent?
It feels like it. Then again, I’ve lived and died with these guys, Several for a full matriculation, including Peyton Siva, who blossomed into the strongest team leader since Grif himself. A few more who have been here three years. And some sophs, a couple of whom figured when they enrolled they’d be one and done.
So, I ask — you and myself — was there more than baseline hoodoo voodoo with these champs? Was there mojo woikin’ OT?
Being a Cardinal Inveterate, I say “Hell yeah!”
There’s the Siva story. Of Samoan ancestry, a kid who at 13 turned his father’s life around. A baller, who had some segments of performance even late into this championship season that made one wonder if he’d learned anything at all since he sat on the bench behind Edgar Sosa as a freshman? But who, when it came time to win it or not, in the second half of the title game, took the game over, went carpe diem and squeezed the moment by the short and curlies and willed U of L to net cuttin’ time.
There’s Gorgui Dieng, from Senegal, who had to convince the NCAA he should be eligible, even though he speaks 5 languages. The afterthought of a recruit, solicited only afte Fab Melo jilted the Cards for Syracuse. The kid so naive he didn’t understand why Louisville didn’t play anymore his freshman season after an opening round loss in the tournament. But who led the Cards in assists in the title tilt.
There’s Chane Behanan, who started this season in the dog house, suspended, his lips zipped by his coach. A kid who appeared to give it his all only every once in awhile, whom many fans thought should have been benched in favor of Silent L. But who showed up on the last Monday of the season with the eye of the tiger, refusing to lose, outrebounding the entire Michigan team in the second half.
There’s Wayne Blackshear, the Golden Arches AA, who has never seemed to have gotten it together, especially on offense. The kid from the City of Broad Shoulders, whose shoulders may never have healed from injury. But who tallied 8 critical points in the championship game, grabbed perhaps the key rebound of the contest, and played defense until he couldn’t catch his breath. (Rick, have the kid checked for exercise induced asthma, please?)
There’s Russ Smith, who was hurt as a frosh, rarely played, almost transfered but stayed, and became the poster boy of this team. Feature in Sports Illustrated. Nickname of the season. Bill Clinton’s best buddy. Comfortable enough with is coach to give him devil’s horns on national TV. Absurd scoring average in the tournament. Too many important buckets during the season to list.
There’s Luke Hancock, the transfer from George Mason who, for half a season, had fans wondering what the fuss was about? The team captain before he played a minute, who kept getting beat on D, but who made up for it many times over with his important and stellar play down the stretch. The kid who sapped Michigan’s swagger, with a 14 point 1st half surge unlike any other in the history of the program.
There’s Kevin Ware, who only started to play after being suspended indefinitely at mid-season. Who became a key, nay essential cog in the team’s late success, then went down with an injury that became a national thing, and the rallying point for the title.
There’s Tim Henderson, a walk on, whose one shining career moment, came when it was needed the most, in the national semi-final when his team was down a dozen, so he drained two consecutive treys.
There’s late comer Silent L Montrezl Harrell, whose raw potential seemed awfully polished when he energized that monumental resurgence in the Big East tourney final, Louisville’s confidence-builder heading to the Dance.
There’s SVT, who The Rick finally realized could spell Gorgui without any loss of prowess on the court. The kid who wanted to stay on the team, but was told to leave, then to come back. Which he did.
There’s Mike Marra, who had a career ending injury, but whose brother is going to tattoo the coach to commemorate the title.
There’s the resurrection of Rick Pitino, now a Hall of Fame coach, the first coach to take two different schools to a title, a fellow whose team was jolted in the first round two years in a row, a man who just a couple of years ago was a national joke because of the Karen Sypher imbroglio.
This was a championship team, whose signature regular season game was a 5 OT meltdown in South Bend.
This was a championship team, which was challenged to win out after that Saturday Night massacre. And did, one game at a time, sixteen games in a row.
This was a championship team, which found itself down big to a Final Four school in the Big East Final, then ended up outscoring Syracuse by 30 in the second half. This was a championship that eviscerated Duke in the regional final, while suffering over the loss of Kevin Ware.
This was a championship team that overcame a 12 point deficit in the national semi-final. Then did it again on the last Monday of the season.
Heartache, heartbreak, adversity. These Cards suffered them all and prevailed.
Losses, doubts, flaws. These Cards experienced them all and prevailed.
It was a magic ride to the title. Was it the first? Of course not. But it’s the latest.
* * * * *
I watched the game again last night. (Third time. Once in real time. Twice in more relaxed replay.)
I was looking for two things. 1) Whether the referees affected the outcome of the game, 2) Which coach got the better of the other?
Louisville was whistled for 22 fouls, 7 more than Michigan. But that was really of no consequence. Michigan did get the short end of the stick on a couple of key plays. Trey Burke cleanly blocked Peyton Siva during crunch time, but was called for a foul. Gorgui Dieng was credited for a block, but actually goal tended. There were a couple of others. Both ways. But, truth be told, the Cards got the better end of the deal on the missed calls.
But, being as objective as I can be — difficult for sure — Louisville still made more plays when it mattered. The Cardinals kept the Wolverines measured when it was back and forth at crunch time, grabbing the lead and not relinquishing it.
Bottom line: U of L won the game. Michigan did not. The victory was earned and deserved.
As Greg, Kenny and Chuck indicated after the game, Pitino’s coaching was masterful. Beilein, nice guy he may be, was in over his head.
Two Pitino moves stick out for me.
After Luke Hancock hit two FTs and the first of those monumental treys in that 1:58 segment of the 1st half, he committed his 2d foul. Pitino left him in the game. LH proceeded to hit three more in a row from downtown.
In the second half, McGary scored an easy, relatively unguarded bucket. Pitino immediately called a timeout. Whatever he told his troops, this is the deal. McGary was no factor the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, Beilein became enamored with Spike Albrecht, who did little if anything the last 2/3s of the game, and let the national POY sit for most of a half. He also left McGary on the bench way too long when he was saddled with fouls.
And, at the end, when Michigan should have been fouling immediately to lengthen the game, Beilein’s instructions were to let too much time run off the clock.
* * * * *
The C-J’s Kyle Tucker posted a somewhat controversial blog, especially for Cardinal fans, in which he posited the query, how hard was U of L’s journey to the title?
He used a reasonably simplistic formula, by adding the the total of seedings of foes beaten.
U of L’s “score” was 51, the largest — lower is better — since Vegas tallied 54 in ’90.
While this is certainly dialog-inducing, it is of little consequence, because, all together now: Rule #2. You only play who(m) you play.
It’s the nature of the tourney. Teams are going to be upset. Higher seeded teams are going to advance. Deservedly so. They survived and advanced. The Cards got a break in ’82. UAB upset UVa in the regional semis, giving Louisville an easier path to the Final Four.
The lowest total a #1 seed that makes it to the title game can have is 32 (16+8+4+2+1+1).
The lowest total by any school since ’85 is 20 by #8 Villanova ((9+1+5+2+2+1). Of course, a #1 seed is always going to start out with at least 24 points (16+8).
Anyway, this argument is of little significance, except, of course to UK fans, who wish to denigrate the Cardinals’ accomplishment. The Cats total last year was 37.
Louisville beat the teams it faced. Six times in a row. That’s all you can ask.
– Seedy K