And then the stopgap became a star. After Michigan junior point guard Trey Burke, the national player of the year, scored the team’s first seven points, Albrecht took over.
“He may not pass the look test,” Burke said. “But he’s going to make plays for his team.”
With Burke on the bench with two fouls, Michigan built a 33-21 lead. Albrecht had 17 points in 16 minutes, including four threes.
Turn, then, to Hancock. At 6-6, he at least passes the look test. Still, his only scholarship offer after high school in Roanoke came from George Mason, and he transferred to Louisville after Patriots coach Jim Larranaga left for Miami. Yet his 20 points were a huge reason Louisville got past Wichita State in the semifinals.
And with Michigan threatening to run away, Hancock single-handedly reeled them back in. He scored 14 straight Louisville points — including four three-pointers, each one getting the red-clad fans to fill the dome with a louder roar. When Siva tossed an alley-oop pass, in transition, to forward Montrezl Harrell, and Harrell threw it down with a force that shook the building, the place nearly came unglued.
“I just thought we needed something,” Hancock said. “I tried to do whatever I could to help the team. I usually take a back seat to Russ [Smith] and Peyton, which I’m fine with, since they’re such great players.”
Then the game was turned over to the stars. When Behanan hit a pair of free throws with 13:50 remaining, Louisville seized a 49-47 lead, and the back-and-forth, breakneck pace seemed as if it would continue. The Cardinals didn’t pull away. But they also didn’t trail again.
Still, there was one key exchange with less than a minute remaining. With Louisville up 78-74, Siva took a floater that missed, and Michigan’s Caris LeVert grabbed the rebound. But LeVert came down out of bounds. Louisville had possession again, a new shot clock — and everything but the victory.
In the final moments, Burke – who scored a game-high 24 – launched an air ball under duress, and only then did Pitino turn to his bench and begin embracing anyone in sight. It would be one to cherish, regardless of style. But the Cardinals could embrace the trophy knowing they won the title in a manner befitting a champion.