By Randy Whetstone Jr.–

The team celebrates their National Championship title.

On a court filled with confetti, Gorgui Dieng was living an unfathomed dream, “To win the national championship, I never dreamed about this. I don’t have any words for this. I just tried to do my job. I feel I did it tonight. Everyone was involved; that’s what makes us a good basketball team.” His brother in the frontcourt, Chane Behanan said, “I never knew it would feel like this. It feels like we are on the top of the world. Me and my brothers here, this is what we put in work all during the summer. Like coach told us, leave everything out on the court. Don’t worry about making mistakes; take your chances—chances make champions.”

In a championship game attendance record of 74,326 the University of Louisville men’s basketball team wins its first National Championship in 27 years after defeating the Michigan Wolverines 82-76.

The team has been characterized with unity, toughness and heart. After reaching the Final Four last season and falling short to Kentucky, Louisville bounced back with their eye on the prize. They started the season as preseason No. 2, and the team fought ending the post-season No. 1. This is Louisville’s first national championship since 1986. In a historic game versus Michigan, Louisville prevailed. Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four Luke Hancock said, “It doesn’t get better than this, it’s unbelievable. It does not get better than this.”

The first half was a Michael “Spike” Albrecht and Luke Hancock 3-point shootout. Michigan was up by as many as twelve points. After the national player of the year Trey Burke went to the bench due to foul trouble, the freshman for the Wolverines stepped up. Albrecht hit four of the team’s six 3-point shots. He scored 17 of the team’s 38 points. The Cards were in desperate need of a spurt on offense. Twelve seems to be the magic number for Louisville to turn on the switch. After the largest deficit in the first half, it was Luke Hancock again for the Cardinals making his presence known. He scored 14 points in a 2:33 span. He hit four straight 3-point shots, and Montrezl Harrell topped it off for the Cards after receiving the alley-oop slam from Siva to give Louisville their first lead of the game 37-36. In thirteen minutes, Hancock went perfect from the field, 4-4 and scored a team high 16 points. Michigan led at the half 38-37.

In the second half, Trey Burke came out as the avenger after sitting most of the first half. He scored 17 points in the half and led his team the entire way. He showed his NBA potential when he hit a long-range bomb to cut into the Cards lead 54-52 with 12:07 left to go. But the Cards kept the pressure on. Siva had a huge second half scoring 14 points which included an alley-oop slam assisted by Hancock which made the score 67-72 at the 6:27 mark. Chane Behanan took advantage on the offensive boards and ended the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Louisville turned the contest into a two possession game, and Michigan could not overcome the deficit. Both teams had incredible offenses and the magnitude in which they played will go down as one the greatest college basketball championships ever to be played.

Kevin Ware ceremoniously cuts down the nets in Atlanta, Georgia.

Luke Hancock set a record for the most points scored by a bench player in a championship game in 49 years. He finished the game with 22 points going a perfect 5-5 from three point land and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and was thrilled about playing in front of his father, “I’m so excited for this team to be in this situation. It’s been a long road. There’s no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here. It’s hard to put into words. I’m so excited that he was here.  It just means a lot. Just blessed to be in this situation. I’m just so happy for our team.” During the cutting of the nets, the rim was lowered for Ware to cut the last peace of the net. “It’s been such a rollercoaster of emotions… look back on it and say, that was really, really special. I was glad to be part of this team.”

Senior Peyton Siva has left his stamp in the Louisville Cardinal History books. As the leader, he embraced every moment of winning the national crown, “Well, I just got to thank God for blessing me with this opportunity. Winning this game, the whole game.” When asked about his legacy he shared, “My job was to continue to try to lead. That’s always been my job as a point guard. Coach Pitino gave me an opportunity to run this team, and that’s what I have always been trying to do. My legacy that I want to leave is to keep God first over everything, and put your teammates above all. You just got to continue to go out there and play for your team; and play for the name on the front not on the back.”

In his 28th collegiate season coaching and 12th with Louisville Coach Rick Pitino is the first coach to take three different schools to final fours, and became the first coach in college basketball to win two national championships at two different schools– Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013. The irony behind this profound fact is both schools are arch rivals. Earlier the same day, he was announced into the 2013 class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. When he first heard of the honor, he said, “The greatest thing about this, there’s probably no grater moment than the birth of your children. It’s just awesome for my family. For me, I understand why I’m here.” He improved his NCAA Tournament record to 48-16. As the higher seed, his teams are 39-6. After the victory with much incitement he said, “You know, a lot of times when you get to the Final Four, you get to the championship, the game’s not always great, not always pretty. This was a great college basketball game. It’s just, for us, been an incredible run with just the most wonderful young men I had the pleasure to be around. So proud of them.”

Louisville finished the season with a 35-5 record and won out the last 16 games of the year, not losing in exactly two months. Since the five overtime thriller at Notre Dame Feb. 9, the Cardinals played at another level, clearly putting them at the pinnacle of men’s college basketball. Their 35 wins are the most in the school’s legacy. This was the third year in school history Louisville went into the tournament as the number one overall seed; the difference this time around is they finished the season number one. They are one of eight schools with at least three or more national championships; in company with UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Connecticut, Duke, and Kansas. In the last season of the Big East, Louisville earned a share of the regular season championship, made a dramatic comeback versus Syracuse in the Big East Championship, and seized the ultimate reign as the 2013 NCAA National Champion.

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Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal