It was quite a day for Rick Pitino.
The long-time head coach received a call that he would be named into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in the morning, and then he was crowned with his second national championship in the evening.
Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals held off a feisty performance from the Michigan Wolverines to win their third ever NCAA men’s basketball title, 82-76.
Pitino, who had previously coached Louisville rival Kentucky to a national championship in 1996, became the first head coach to win a title with two different teams. The New York City native received his first head coaching job at Boston University back in 1978, and earlier this week his son, Richard, was named head coach of Minnesota.
Louisville entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed, and there was a great deal of pressure on Pitino, who has spent 12 years with the program. The Cardinals had been to the Final Four in 2005 and 2012 under Pitino, but failed to make it to the title game.
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"I had the 13 toughest guys I ever coached," said Pitino in the postgame interview.
It was an intense effort from both clubs at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Monday. Both Louisville and Michigan shot the ball well despite strong defense from each side.
Louisville used a 16-3 run in the final 3:31 minutes of the first half to overcome a 12-point deficit and take the lead, 37-36. Of Louisville’s 16 points in the stretch, 14 came from Luke Hancock, who nailed four straight three-pointers without a miss.
“We went to war,” said Hancock, who was named the Most Outstanding Player. Hancock scored 22 points off five-for-five shooting from beyond the arc.
The Wolverines took a one-point victory into halftime, but the run by Louisville left a deep impact on the game. The second half was tight, with the Cardinals never able to lead by double digits. Louisville opened up a two-point advantage with 14 minutes remaining, and never surrendered the lead.
Michigan appeared to be penalized on a fantastic defensive play that swung the momentum. With under six minutes remaining and Louisville leading by three just points, Peyton Siva drove to that basket for a layup after a deep pass.
On the replay, it was very clear that Trey Burke blocked Siva’s shot, but the Michigan guard was charged with a foul. Siva knocked down the two ensuing free throws to extend Louisville’s lead to five points.
Burke took a great deal of punishment in the game, and went to the free-throw line nine times. The sophomore guard led all scorers with 24 points, but at times looked hobbled by the physical play.
The game often seemed like a game of point guards, as Burke and Siva dueled on the national stage. Siva scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, and finished with five assists and four steals.
Chane Behanan was an unsung hero for Louisville. The big man scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but Behanan’s intensity was a crucial factor for Louisville’s victory.
Louisville out-rebounded Michigan in the second half, and finished with 15 offensive rebounds that led to multiple second-chance points. With under two minutes left in the game, Behanan out-muscled the Wolverines with a pair of missed lay ups, but got his third attempt to drop in a very crucial moment.
The Wolverines were hindered by foul trouble from big man Mitch McGary, who picked up his fourth with more than nine minutes remaining in the second half. McGary finished with just six rebounds in 29 minutes.
Kevin Ware, who suffered a tragic injury earlier in the tournament, was seen on the sideline wearing his jersey and cheering on his teammates. He deflected the notion that he was the contributing emotional spark for his teammates.
"It's not about me. I've never been that type of guy ... [My teammates] got the job done and I'm so proud of them," Ware said after the game.
Ware, who was in crutches, was the last player to cut down the nets to the roar of the Louisville fans who remained in attendance.
Former head coach Denny Crum, 76, who won two titles with Louisville in 1980 and 1986 and was coached by UCLA legend John Wooden, was also in attendance.
It was a gutsy effort by Michigan, and it was led by Spike Albrecht. The freshman had never played more than 15 minutes this season, and never scored more than seven points, but scored 17 points on six-of-nine shooting in 28 minutes. It was an appropriate performance considering Albrecht was playing in front of the Fab Five, a group of Michigan players who led the Wolverines to a national championship appearance as freshmen in 1992, and the last time the Wolverines were in the title game in 1993.
Michigan also received strong efforts from two players who share the names of their famous basketball fathers. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III each scored 12 points on a combined eight-of-17 shooting.
“To play that well is absolutely incredible,” said Pitino of the Wolverines. “They are a great basketball team. We beat a great basketball team.”
“What they were doing this year was incredible,” said Michigan head coach John Beilein about his squad, who reached the title game as a No. 4 seed.
Michigan shot an impressive 45.9 percent from the field, but Louisville converted 52.1 percent of their shots.
It was a game of milestones for Pitino. The 60-year-old tied Wooden for career wins (664) and 25th on the list. He said he would get a tattoo, at the request of his players.
“Tonight was as good as it gets,” said Pitino, to describe his team’s efforts.
Pitino could have also been describing his historic day.