Louisville, Michigan to meet for NCAA title
Michigan has its way early, but has to hold off Syracuse rally 61-56
BY PAUL NEWBERRY
Don't call these guys the Fab Five.
Michigan's latest group of young stars is determined to leave its own legacy.
Attacking Syracuse's suffocating zone defense in the first half with 3-pointers, crisp passing and a fearless attitude, the Wolverines advanced to the national championship game with a 61-56 victory over the Orange in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Michigan (31-7) will be going for its first national title since 1989 when it faces Louisville on Monday at the Georgia Dome. Syracuse (30-10) failed to complete an all-Big East final in the fabled league's last season before breaking up.
Louisville was established as a 4½-point favorite.
Don't expect that to bother the brash young Wolverines a bit.
The Wolverines got sloppy in the second half and had to hang on at the end, winning despite a tough night for Associated Press player of the year Trey Burke. He scored only seven points.
That made for some nervous moments as Michigan got a little too conservative trying to run out the clock.
Trailing 58-56, the Orange had a chance to force overtime. But Brandon Triche was called for a foul when Jordan Morgan stepped in to take the charge with 19.2 seconds left.
After Jon Horford made only one of two free throws, Syracuse called timeout and set up a play. Curiously, the Orange didn't attempt a tying 3-pointer. Instead, Trevor Cooney drove the lane looking to put up an easier shot. But the ball was swatted away, Michigan saved it from going out of bounds and Morgan wound up taking a long pass the other way.
He threw down a thunderous slam with just over a second remaining to cap the triumph.
With Burke struggling (he made only one shot from the field all night), Michigan got an unexpected contribution off the bench from freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht.
LeVert scored eight points and Albrecht chipped in with six — all of them crucial after the Wolverines went cold in the second half and struggled to put away the Orange. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines with 13 points.
Of course, there's nothing unusual about Michigan getting big performances from first-year players. This team starts three freshmen — Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas — which, of course, rekindled memories of the great Fab Five teams of the early 1990s.
These kids want nothing to do with the comparisons, saying they haven't done nearly enough to be mentioned in the same breath with a team that changed the face of college basketball.
Well, if the Wolverines can win their next game, they'll accomplish something that eluded the Fab Five: a national title.
Syracuse was looking to give 68-year-old Jim Boeheim another title, a decade after the Orange won it all in their last trip to the Final Four. Boeheim has no plans to retire, but his quest for a championship is on hold for another year.
Michigan won this game in the opening 20 minutes, doing exactly what it needed to do against Syracuse's suffocating 2-3 zone: knock down open 3s, crash the boards, and work the ball inside and out with rapid-fire passes.
When Syracuse started extending its perimeter defense, looking to cut off the long-range shots, Michigan created an open look late in the half with a nifty bit of ball movement. Glenn Robinson III took a pass, whipped it ball to LeVert, who dribbled a couple of times and fed the ball back to Robinson for an open 15-footer.
Nothing but net.
The Wolverines began to pull away from Syracuse even though Burke was struggling. He finally scored his first points with just under a minute remaining in the first half, swishing a 3 from nearly the same spot on the court where he made the long shot that stunned top-seeded Kansas.
It would be Burke's only basket of the night.
"We shot well from 3, and I mean deep," coach John Beilein said coming off the court at halftime. "It's tough to penetrate against them. We had some success, but we made some really good shots."
Even though Hardaway missed a trey just before the buzzer sounded, Michigan sprinted off the court with a commanding 36-25 lead. Syracuse didn't have enough offensive firepower to come all the way back, shooting just 42 percent (23 of 55).
C.J. Fair scored 22 points, doing his best to rally the Orange all by himself. But Triche, with 11 points, was the only other Syracuse player in double figures.
With Michigan's starters also struggling, the guys off the bench picked up the slack.
LeVert, who seemed headed for a redshirt early in the season and was known more for defense than offense, made a couple of 3-pointers in the opening half. He had connected just 11 times from that range coming into the Final Four.
Albrect was another surprise. He, too, buried a couple of shots beyond the arc — one of them going through from the corner while he was sliding on his backside toward the Syracuse bench. Coming into Atlanta, he had made only a dozen 3-pointers the entire season.
|MICHIGAN 61, SYRACUSE 56|
Percentages: FG .418, FT .636.
3-Point Goals: 3-14, .214 (Cooney 1-2, Fair 1-3, Southerland 1-5, Carter-Williams 0-2, Triche 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Keita, Grant, Christmas, Fair).
Turnovers: 10 (Carter-Williams 5, Southerland 2, Triche 2, Christmas).
Steals: 7 (Carter-Williams 2, Christmas 2, Keita, Southerland, Fair).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .396, FT .550.
3-Point Goals: 8-24, .333 (Hardaway Jr. 3-10, Albrecht 2-2, LeVert 2-3, Burke 1-4, Robinson III 0-1, Stauskas 0-4).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 3 (McGary 2, Burke).
Turnovers: 10 (McGary 3, Robinson III 3, LeVert, Hardaway Jr., Morgan, Burke).
Steals: 5 (Burke 3, Stauskas, Hardaway Jr.).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Mark Whitehead, Randy McCall, Doug Sirmons.
Louisville's late run puts away upstart Shockers 72-68
BY NANCY ARMOUR
ATLANTA — Russ Smith looked at the scoreboard, then at the clock, then over at the bench.
Louisville needed a run, but he had no idea where it was going to come from. The starters were struggling, the fouls were piling up and the only lift injured Kevin Ware could give the top-seeded Cardinals was an emotional one.
"It was like, 'Man,'" Smith said. "I was actually waiting for our run. And it happened. Luke exploded. That was actually what I was waiting for. Then Chane exploded. Then Peyton made a big layup. Then Tim Henderson. It just kept going and going."
And Louisville rode it all the way to the title game.
Luke Hancock scored 20 points off the bench, Henderson sparked a second-half rally with a pair of monster 3s and Louisville reminded everyone it can grind it out, too, advancing to the NCAA title game Saturday night after escaping with a 72-68 victory over Wichita State.
Louisville will play the winner of Syracuse-Michigan for the national title Monday night. The Cardinals (34-5) have had this game in their sights since losing to Kentucky in last year's Final Four, and they got added motivation after Ware's tibia snapped during last weekend's Midwest Regional final, the bone poking through the skin.
Ware was on his feet when the final buzzer sounded, grinning and throwing his arms into the air.
"We've got to bring our best game," Ware said. "It's the last game of the season. If we lose, everything we've worked for just goes down the drain. That's the last thing we want right now."
Especially after such a close call against the ninth-seeded Shockers (30-9), who nearly pulled off their biggest upset of all.
Wichita State had knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga and Ohio State on its way to its first Final Four since 1965, and the Shockers had a 12-point lead on Louisville with 13:35 to play. It was the largest deficit all tournament for the Cardinals, who seemed lost after the emotional week following Ware's gruesome injury.
But Louisville had come back to win five games after trailing by nine points or more already this year, including rallying from a 16-point deficit in the title game at the Big East tournament. Even coach Rick Pitino's horse, Goldencents, had to rally to win the Santa Anita Derby, and a spot in the Kentucky Derby, on Saturday.
This rally trumped them all.
"We just played super hard," said Smith, who led the Cardinals with 21 points. "Nobody wanted to go home."
Henderson, the walk-on who was forced into increased playing time because of Ware's injury, made those back-to-back 3s to spark a 21-8 run. While Hancock and Behanan were knocking down shots, Smith and Peyton Siva were turning up the heat on the Shockers, forcing them into seven turnovers in the final seven minutes after they'd gone more than 26 minutes without one.
The first came when Siva darted in to strip the ball away from Carl Hall. Siva fed Hancock, who drilled a 3 that gave Louisville a 56-55 lead, its first since the end of the first half.
"Down the stretch, we were just loose with the ball, we just didn't take care of it, pretty much," said Wichita State's Malcolm Armstead, who had just 2 points on 1-of-10 shooting. "I can't give you an explanation — it just happened."
Cleanthony Early would give the Shockers one more lead, converting a three-point play. But Siva scored and then Smith stole the ball and took it in for an easy layup that gave Louisville a 60-58 lead with 4:47 left. Louisville fans erupted, and even Ware was on his feet, throwing up his arms and clapping. The Cardinals extended the lead to 65-60 on a tip-in of a Smith miss and another 3 by Hancock.
Wichita State had one last chance, pulling within 68-66 on Early's tip in with 22 seconds left. But the Shockers were forced to foul, and Smith and Hancock made their free throws to seal the victory.
As the final buzzer sounded, Chane Behanan tossed the ball high into the air and Henderson and Hancock did a flying shoulder bump at midcourt.
"It's just a mix of emotions, of feelings. It hurts to have to lose and be the end of the season," said Early, who led the Shockers with 24 points. "But these guys fought to the end, and we had a great season and keep our heads high and know the grind doesn't stop."
The Cardinals were the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, and they steamrolled their way through their first four games, winning by an average of almost 22 points. They limited opponents to 59 points and 42 percent shooting while harassing them into almost 18 turnovers a game, setting an NCAA tourney record with 20 steals against North Carolina A&T.
The presence of Ware was supposed to provide even more motivation for Louisville. He urged his teammates to "just go win the game" before being wheeled off the court on a stretcher last weekend. Three days later, he joined the Cardinals as they made the trip to the Final Four in Atlanta, Ware's hometown.
The Cardinals have modified their warm-up T-shirts in Ware's honor — they now read "Ri5e to the Occasion," with Ware's No. 5 on the back. He had a seat at the end of the bench, his right leg propped up on towels, and every one of the starters went to shake his hand after being introduced.
But whether it was the roller-coaster of the last week, the expectations or just Wichita State, the Cardinals seemed out of sorts much of the night. Wayne Blackshear and Gorgui Dieng went scoreless, and Siva was just 1-of-9.
"There's a reason our starters played poorly, because Wichita State is that good," Pitino said
Wichita State may not have the names or pedigree of a Louisville, Syracuse or Michigan. But what the Shockers lacked in star power they more than made up for in hustle and heart. This, after all, was a team with one player (Carl Hall) who salvaged his career after working in a light bulb factory and two more (Armstead and Ron Baker) who paid their own ways in their first years.
The Shockers barely seemed to notice that vaunted Louisville press until the final minutes of the game. They didn't rush shots, working it around until they got a look they liked — Louisville was called for more than one foul late in the shot clock, including one on Smith with only a second left — and they were relentless on the backboards.
And that "play angry" defense? Now the Cardinals have an idea of how their opponents have felt. Wichita State bottled Louisville up inside, never letting Gorgui Dieng be a factor, and the Cardinals were continually forced to put up awkward and bad shots from outside.
"We were kind of waiting to make our run," Hancock said. "Obviously you're a little concerned when you're down by 12 in the second half. We just had to turn up our intensity, maybe gamble a little more."
Louisville was struggling so badly that Ware actually got out of his seat at one point, hobbling over to the Louisville huddle.
"He just wanted to tell us that we needed to pick it up," Siva said. "We know how much it would mean for him to be out there. He just tried to give us whatever we needed, the extra motivation, the extra boost to get over the hump. That's what he did."
The Shockers have had trouble hanging onto leads, and this game was no different. After Henderson's 3s, the Cardinals were off and running, all the way to the last game of the season.
"Coach Pitino kept telling us to go out there and have fun and keep playing and we were going to win. Stop hanging our heads," Siva said.
"That's what we did."
|LOUISVILLE 72, WICHITA ST. 68|
Percentages: FG .407, FT .750.
3-Point Goals: 6-20, .300 (Baker 3-6, Early 2-4, Cotton 1-2, Wiggins 0-1, VanVleet 0-2, Armstead 0-5).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 1 (Early).
Turnovers: 11 (Armstead 3, VanVleet 3, Hall 2, Baker, Cotton).
Steals: 5 (Armstead 2, Hall 2, Cotton).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .449, FT .655.
3-Point Goals: 9-25, .360 (Smith 4-11, Hancock 3-5, Henderson 2-3, Blackshear 0-1, Siva 0-5).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Dieng 2, Van Treese).
Turnovers: 9 (Smith 5, Siva 2, Harrell, Dieng).
Steals: 8 (Siva 2, Hancock 2, Smith 2, Behanan, Van Treese).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Les Jones, Karl Hess, Terry Wymer.