ATLANTA — The pair stood, looking up at the videoboard in the Georgia Dome, arms around each other’s shoulders. They watched the NCAA Tournament flash before their eyes, “One Shining Moment” playing through the mess and confetti on the raised court, the Louisville fans still celebrating.
For Kevin Ware and Chane Behanan, the moment was quiet. They didn’t speak. They just watched, knowing that despite some seemingly insurmountable odds, their Louisville team had just won the national title, beating Michigan, 82-76, in front of 74,326.
While the first half of Monday night’s championship game might have belonged to Spike Albrecht, the unheralded, unappreciated, undersized Michigan guard who couldn’t miss from beyond the arc, the game belonged to Luke Hancock and Peyton Siva, to Louisville, to history.
And to Ware.
As the injured guard said, not long after one of the baskets had been lowered to permit him to cut down part of the net, “It means everything to me.”
“If you look at him over there on the sideline and he wants to play so bad and he can’t, I feel like I need to play better,” Hancock said. “I need to play harder.”
So he did. They all did.
The victory made Rick Pitino the first coach to win a national title with two schools. And the three-time champion Cardinals (35-5) did it in impressive fashion, the game a fast-paced, ultracompetitive scoring fest in a season that has seen more than its share of ugly play.
“We beat a great basketball team,” said Pitino, who acknowledged after the game that he had promised his players he’d get a tattoo if Louisville won the title. “I have the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached.”
But they had to get past Albrecht first. As Siva said, “The little backup point guard today was just lighting us up.”
It was after Albrecht’s explosion — 17 first-half points — put Michigan up by 12 with 3:51 to go in the first half that Hancock, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, forced his way into the conversation.
Albrecht, out of Northfield Mount Hermon Prep, could hit threes. But so, too, could Hancock, who swished home four in 120 seconds to bring Louisville to within 1 at halftime (38-37). He finished with 22 points, the second straight game Hancock was the team’s savior and best player.
“I can’t really describe this feeling right now,” said Hancock, whose father traveled to the Final Four despite being gravely ill. “It’s pretty unbelievable. Just so happy for the team.”
Asked how the Cardinal were able to do this, Hancock said, “Because we’ve been through everything. I think we’ve handled adversity well the whole year.”
Including Hancock, who embraced his father after the game.
“I asked him how was that, which I do after every game that he’s there,” Hancock said. “He always tells me to pull the trigger. I told him I pulled the trigger.”
It was in a back-and-forth second half that the game was decided. It was Tim Hardaway Jr. with a monstrous slam dunk and Siva (18 points) on the receiving end of a sweet alley-oop. It was Trey Burke, back in the game after foul trouble in the first half, getting hot.
It was Behanan never relenting, with 11 of his 12 rebounds and 11 of his 15 points in the second half. It was the players who had brought Michigan and Louisville to this point.
Behanan, who finished with seven offensive rebounds, had in fact told Siva before the game, “Just thank me now.”
And in the end, it was Louisville, pulling away gradually, finding itself and its rhythm, highlighted by yet another Hancock 3-pointer, this one giving Louisville a 10-point advantage with a little more than three minutes to go. The lead would shrink, but the Cardinals never trailed again.
In one week Pitino had been named to the Basketball Hall of Fame, saw his son get named head coach at Minnesota, had a horse he co-owns win the Santa Anita Derby, and win a second national title.
“He has to be the luckiest person in the world right now,” Siva said.
Added Hancock, “He needs to play the lottery. I mean, he doesn’t need any more money, but he needs to play the lottery.”
Michigan was hampered by foul trouble throughout the game, first with Burke missing much of the first half and then with Mitch McGary relegated to the bench with four fouls in the second half. McGary, who had been Michigan’s best player throughout the tournament, scored just 6 points and grabbed six rebounds.
That left an opening for Louisville in the second half, an opening that the Cardinals took and rode to the title.
“I just think it’s a testament to our team,” Siva said. “We didn’t have the highest-recruited guys — Russ Smith, Gorgui [Dieng]. But everybody stuck together. It was just a family. This is what college basketball is all about.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twittter @amaliebenjamin.