ATLANTA — It looked like they were all trying to have their One Shining Moment. Tim Hardaway Jr., jacked up a quick 3, then tried a one-on-one move and took another poor shot. Spike Albrecht, the hero of the first half, was only the hero of the first half. He threw up a chancy, underhand shot off the glass that had no chance. Trey Burke kept trying to drive through Louisville defenders and sometimes he succeeded, and one time he was face-planted on the wood floor.
Who were these guys?
Michigan, the team of the fluid offense and the pick-and-roll and emerging star center Mitch McGary, abandoned their teamwork under the 10-minute mark of the national championship game with Louisville Monday night. The Wolverines trailed just 60-58 with 8:57 remaining when Hardaway launched his long three to start a downward spiral.
The Cardinals crept ahead, 65-61, then 67-62. Michigan got one field goal on its next seven possessions and the game was lost. The Wolverines, the best offensive team in the tournament, made 52 percent of their shots, but that lies about what they looked like down the stretch on offense.
Louisville (35-5) won, 82-76. It made 18 of 23 free throws. It played together better than the Wolverines with 18 assists on 28 baskets. Michigan had just 12 assists on 25 field goals.
“I don’t know if they speeded us up, maybe we took a couple of bad shots,” said Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III. “But they played great defense the whole game. It came down to who was going to play the best defense.”
Robinson is the most demure of the Michigan shooters, the player who will make an extra pass and cut to the basket and keep his hands ready to receive the ball. Robinson was not looking for his One Shining Moment, the CBS theatrical presentation at the end of the NCAA Tournament, but he should have been. He was 3 of 4 from the field and had no turnovers in 38 minutes.
The Wolverines’ pet play, the pick-and-roll, carved up one opponent after another in the first four games of the tournament. In the fifth win, in Saturday night’s national semifinal against Syracuse, McGary would come to the high post and feed shooters on the wings. Michigan had an answer for everything in the title game until those last 10 minutes. The pick-and-roll was nowhere to be found.
“They have that funky matchup 2-3 zone so they were switching off guys and the guards would be on me,” McGary said. “We looked in there a few times, but it wasn’t there. They did a great job defending it.”
Albrecht, the freshman reserve, lit up the Georgia Dome in the first half with 17 points. He made 6 of 7 shots and all four of his 3-pointers. He missed the two shots he took in the second, including a way-too-deep 3-pointer with 5:12 left and Michigan down, 68-64. Only 13 seconds had elapsed on the shot clock. There was a better shot to be had, but the first pass was the last pass on too many Michigan possessions.
Burke, the All-American, was 7 of 11 from the field and 7 of 9 from the free throw line. In what might be his last game for Michigan, the lightly recruited sophomore scored 24 points. The problem was he had only three assists.
It was a night when Louisville crushed the defense around him and he couldn’t make another pass, particularly to Robinson, who knows how to cut through a zone defense.
“When we were down 2 I think they sped us up and got a few turnovers and we tried to fight back and couldn’t,” McGary said.