ATLANTA (AP) — Rick Pitino capped the greatest week of his life with the prize he wanted most of all.
Luke Hancock produced another huge game off the bench, scoring 22 points, and Pitino became the first coach to win national titles at two schools when relentless Louisville rallied from another 12-point deficit to beat Michigan 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
This title came on the same day Pitino was announced as a member of the latest Hall of Fame class, a couple of days after his horse won a big race on the way to the Kentucky Derby, and a few more days after his son got the head coaching job at Minnesota.
This was the best feeling of all. The Cardinals (35-5) lived up to their billing as the top overall seed in the tournament, though they sure had to work for it.
Louisville trailed Wichita State by a dozen in the second half of the national semifinals, before rallying for a 72-68 victory. This time, they fell behind by 12 in the first half, though a stunning spurt at the end of the period wiped out the entire deficit.
"I had the 13 toughest guys I've ever coached," said Pitino, who plans to follow through on a promise he made to his players if they won the title — by getting a tattoo.
No one was tougher than Hancock, named the most outstanding player. He came off the bench to hit four straight 3-pointers after Michigan got a boost from an even more unlikely player.
Freshman Spike Albrecht made four straight from beyond the arc, too, blowing by his career high before the break with 17 points. Coming in, Albrecht was averaging 1.8 points a game and had not scored more than seven all season.
While Albrecht didn't do much in the second half, Hancock finished what he started for Louisville. He buried another 3 from the corner with 3:20 remaining to give the Cardinals their biggest lead, 76-66. Michigan wouldn't go away, but Hancock wrapped it up by making two free throws with 29 seconds left.
While Pitino shrugged off any attempt to make this about him, there was no doubt the Cardinals wanted to win a national title for someone else — injured guard Kevin Ware.
Watching again from his seat at the end of the Louisville bench, his injured right led propped up on a chair, Ware smiled and slapped hands with his teammates as they celebrated in the closing seconds, the victory coming just 30 miles from where he played his high school ball.
Any pain he was feeling from that gruesome injury in the regional final, when he landed awkwardly, snapped his leg and was left writhing on the floor with the bone sticking through the skin, was long gone as he hobbled gingerly onto the court with the aid of crutches, backing in a sea of confetti and streamers.
Louisville again came out wearing Ware's No. 5 on the back of their warmup jerseys, which said "Ri5e to the Occasion" on the front. When the title belonged to the Cardinals, Ware put on a championship cap and got a big hug from Pitino. Then, they lowered the basket so the injured player could cut a strand out of the net.
This one belonged to him as much as anyone on the court.
"These are my brothers," Ware said. "They got the job done. I'm so proud of them, so proud of them."
Peyton Siva added 18 points for the Cardinals, who closed the season on a 16-game winning streak, and Chane Behanan chipped in with 15 points and 12 rebounds as Louisville slowly but surely closed out the Wolverines (31-8).
Michigan was in the title game for the first time since the Fab Five lost the second of two straight championship games in 1993. Players from that team, including Chris Webber, cheered on the latest group of young stars.
But, like the Fab Five, national player of the year Trey Burke and a squad with three freshman starters came up short in the last game of the season.
The first half might've been the most entertaining 20 minutes of the entire tournament.
Burke started out on fire for Michigan, hitting his first three shots and scoring seven points to match his output from the semifinal victory over Syracuse, when he made only 1-of-8 shots.
Then, when Burke picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench for the rest of the half, Albrecht took control. The kid whose nickname comes from his first pair of baseball spikes showed he's a pretty good hoops player, knocking down one 3-pointer after another to send the Wolverines to a double-digit lead.
When Albrecht blew by Tim Henderson with a brilliant hesitation move, Michigan led 33-21 and Louisville was forced to call timeout. The freshman was mobbed on the Michigan bench, like the Wolverines had already won the national title, with one teammate waving a towel in tribute.
Not so fast. Not against Louisville.
The Cardinals kept coming back.
"We just went into war right there with a great Michigan team," Hancock said. "We needed a rally and we've been doing it for a couple of games straight, being down. We just had to wait and make our run."
Burke, who played only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, finished with 24 points and did his best to give Michigan its first championship since 1989. But he couldn't do it alone. Albrecht was held scoreless after the break, and no one else posted more than 12 points for the Wolverines.
Still, it was quite a run for a fourth-seeded team that knocked off No. 1-seeded Kansas with the greatest comeback of the tournament, rallying from 14 points down in the second half to beat the Jayhawks in the round of the 16.
But they came up against the ultimate comeback team in the final.
"I've had a lot of really good teams over the years, and some emotional locker rooms, and that was the most emotional we've ever had," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "The team unity we had, the sacrifice we had from five seniors who did not get to play very much, to these young guys buying into the team concept.
"We feel bad about it. There are some things we could have done better and get a win, but at the same time, Louisville is a terrific basketball team. We have not seen that quickness anywhere."
Louisville had already pulling off a stunning rally in the Big East championship game — down by 16 in the second half, they won by 17 — and another against Wichita State. They surged back again behind their own ace off the bench.
Hancock matched Albrecht from the 3-point stripe. Then, trapping the youngster and knocking the ball away, he set up a fast break that ended with Siva flipping up a lob that Montrezl Harrell slammed through for a dunk, capping a stunning 16-3 run in less than 4 minutes that gave the Cardinals their first lead of the night, 37-36.
Glenn Robinson III made two free throws with two seconds left to give Michigan a 38-37 lead at halftime.
But everyone knew this game was just getting started.
And when it was done, Pitino, Ware and the Cardinals were celebrating in the middle of the mammoth Georgia Dome, assuring the national title will stay in the bluegrass another year.
Last season, it was Kentucky winning it all, the same team that gave Pitino his first title in 1996.
Now, he's got another one — right down the road in Louisville.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
ATLANTA (AP) — Around the Final Four and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the games.
HALFTIME — MICHIGAN'S WINNING
It's halftime at the national championship game and Michigan is 20 minutes away from only its second national championship.
Freshman Spike Albrecht is the surprise scoring leader with 17 points as Michigan leads Louisville 38-37 at halftime of Monday night's championship game. Michigan won its only title in 1989.
Michigan, the No. 4 seed, is trying to upset Louisville, the No. 1 seed. Luke Hancock has 16 points for Louisville, which made a late charge to lead 37-36 before Michigan's Glenn Robinson III sank two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Michigan star Trey Burke scored the first five points on a jumper and 3-pointer and had seven points less than 3 minutes into the game, matching his total from the Wolverines' semifinal win over Syracuse.
— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/CharlesOdum
Louisville is getting Spiked in the NCAA finals.
As in, Spike Albrecht.
The freshman guard for Michigan has nearly outscored the Cardinals by himself — he had 17 points as the Wolverines raced to a 33-21 lead late in the first half.
Albrecht was 4 for 4 from beyond the arc, running his NCAA tournament to 9 for 9 and matching Sam Cassell of Florida State (1993) for the most 3-pointers without a miss in tourney history.
Albrecht came into the game averaging about 2 points, with nine made 3s all season. His season high had been just seven points.
Late in the half, he got the ball on the wing and pumped faked from beyond the arc, not only bringing his defender off his feet but also about 50,000 fans. Albrecht wisely passed the ball away, but got it back moments later and converted on a nifty driving layup.
He furiously punched the air as Louisville called timeout.
— Dave Skretta — http://twitter.com/@APdaveskretta
Former five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber showed up at the Georgia Dome just about the time Michigan's starting lineup was being introduced before the Wolverines squared off against Louisville in Monday's night's national championship game.
CBS-TV showed Webber arriving at the Georgia Dome and exiting his car minutes before the game. He was wearing a UM hat.
Webber played on Michigan's 1992 and 1993 Final Four teams but a federal investigation revealed that a booster gave Webber and three non-Fab Five players more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes. The NCAA forced the school to dissociate from them until this year. The dissociation officially ends in May.
— Charles Odum
There haven't been many whistles blown early on in the championship game.
That's a good thing, too.
After a season in which basketball often resembled wrestling, and in which officials often stole the headlines, it was Michigan and Louisville on center stage at the Georgia Dome.
Only two fouls had been called in the first 7 minutes, 11 seconds, as the teams got into an up-and-down affair that finally looked the way basketball was meant to be played.
Both teams were shooting it well, too. Michigan started off 7 of 11 from the field, while Louisville was 5 for 11 as the second media timeout neared.
— Dave Skretta
BURKE'S FAST START
In less than 3 minutes, Michigan star Trey Burke has matched his points total from the Wolverines' semifinal win over Syracuse.
Burke had only seven points — 11.5 below his average — in Michigan's 61-56 win over Syracuse in the Final Four semifinal on Saturday night. The sophomore guard opened Monday night's championship game with a jumper before adding a 3-pointer for a 5-0 lead. He scored on a layup to give him seven points with more than 17 minutes remaining in the opening half.
— Charles Odum
Police Chief Michael Kehoe and some of the other officers from Newton, Conn., who responded to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School were honored during a timeout in the first half at the Final Four.
The crowd erupted when the officers, dressed in their uniforms, were shown on the video board hanging over the court and on the screens at each end of the Georgia Dome.
Twenty children and six adults were killed in the shooting last December.
— Dave Skretta
Floyd Mayweather Jr. won't know until halftime which team he'll pick to win the national basketball championship.
Once the undefeated boxing champion figures it out, he is expecting to place a $50,000 bet toward either Michigan or Louisville in the NCAA title game on Monday night. He thinks the Wolverines have a strong chance to come away with the crown if they're able to sustain an early lead against the Cardinals.gg
"I think that if Michigan gets a lead like that, it's going to be kind of hard to come back," said Mayweather, who is an avid sports fan and often bets on games. He probably should wait as long as he can: He had Indiana winning it all in his bracket.
Mayweather was in Atlanta to promote his upcoming fight against Robert Guerrero on May 4 in Las Vegas.
—Jonathan Landrum — http://twitter.com/@MrLandum31
Injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware followed his same pregame routine as in the Cardinals' semifinal win over Wichita State.
Ware, on crutches after having surgery to repair his broken right leg, again was cheered when he took his seat by the Louisville bench. Wearing his white No. 5 jersey, Ware sat beside the elevated court, facing the action, where he could prop up his injured leg on another chair. He stood at the end of Saturday's semifinal win over Wichita State and even shocked his teammates by joining a late-game huddle.
His teammates again wore T-shirts over their jerseys in pregame warmups with the words "Ri5e to the Occasion." A fan raised a sign which read "Rise for 5."
Ware played at Rockdale County High School, about 30 miles east of Atlanta.
— Charles Odum
Michigan ought to have a homecourt advantage over Louisville on Monday night.
The maple floor that the teams are playing on in the Georgia Dome was made by Connor Sport Court International at its plant in Amasa, Mich., and the lumber for it came from Timber Products Company, which is based in Munising, Mich.
The court is made up of 4-by-7 foot pieces that were sent by truck to Atlanta, where they were fitted together on an elevated platform in time for the Final Four.
Connor Sport Court also made the court for the women's Final Four in New Orleans.
— Dave Skretta
There were no surprises in the starting lineups for the national championship.
Top-seeded Louisville (34-5) went with its customary backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, with forwards Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan and center Gorgui Dieng.
No. 4 seed Michigan (31-7) is going with is traditional three-guard lineup of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas, along with forwards Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.
The officials for the game are John Higgins, John Cahill and Tony Greene, with Mike Eades on standby. Eades is the only one who hasn't worked a previous Final Four.
— Dave Skretta
Country musician Travis Tritt has quite the task ahead of him when he performs the national anthem prior to Monday night's national championship between Michigan and Louisville.
The Georgia native will be following a virtuoso performance by the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir before Saturday night's national semifinals, a rendition that drew almost universal praise from fans, the media and across social media platforms.
Tritt is no stranger to big sporting events. The two-time Grammy Award-winner has performed at two Super Bowls, a World Series and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and will be performing for the 15th time during Kentucky Derby festivities next month in Louisville, Ky.
— Dave Skretta
There were plenty of signs popping up all around the Georgia Dome for the national championship.
Some of them witty. Some of them cruel. Most of them funny.
One sign helped up by a Michigan fan featured a picture of Glenn Robinson III, whose father was a star player at Purdue. It was accompanied by the words, "Daddy never did that!" — as in, the "Big Dog" never played for a national championship with the Boilermakers.
A few sections over, a Louisville fan held up a similar looking sign — it was on yellow cardstock, too — with a picture of former Wolverines star Chris Webber. But the words pasted onto it carried a much different tone: "Timeouts left: -1."
Don't get the joke? Ask a Michigan fan.
— Dave Skretta
Fans waiting until the last minute to buy NCAA championship game tickets are paying a steep price.
The average price for Monday night's game had soared to $720, according to TiqIQ.com, which tracks ticket trends. The company says that is a 140-percent increase over last year's final between Kentucky and Kansas in New Orleans.
At Ticketstub.com, prices for Monday night's game were starting at $330 about three hours before the game.
— Charles Odum
MICHIGAN'S FAB FIVE
One unanswered question at the Final Four: Will there be a reunion of Michigan's Fab Five?
Twenty years ago, the brash group of Michigan youngsters lost to North Carolina in the NCAA title game. This is Michigan's first trip back to the championship game.
Chris Webber's whereabouts are causing the most commotion. Jalen Rose went on a Grantland.com podcast and encouraged Webber to join him and other Fab Five players at Monday night's title game against Louisville, but it's not clear whether that will happen.
Michigan has been recovering from the fallout after a federal investigation revealed that a booster gave Webber and three non-Fab Five players more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes. The NCAA forced the school to dissociate from them until this year. The dissociation officially ends in May.
On Saturday, Webber tweeted "It's Your Time Now!" — along with a picture of current Michigan players Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.
— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister
HISTORY FAVORS LOUISVILLE
Recent history favors No. 1 seed Louisville over No. 4 Michigan in Monday night's championship game.
Top seeds have won five of the last six finals against teams seeded fourth or lower. The only upset in that span came in 1997, when No. 4 Arizona beat top seed Kentucky, coached by Rick Pitino.
Older history provides more hope for Michigan. There were three upsets in the 1980s in finals between No. 1 seeds and teams seeded fourth or lower: North Carolina State over Houston in 1983, Villanova over Georgetown in 1985, and Kansas over Oklahoma in 1988.
— Charles Odum
HAIL TO THE VICTORS
Michigan coach John Beilein attended the Final Four in 1989, when the Wolverines last won a national championship, and remembers one thing sticking out in his mind:
"Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan
The leaders and best!"
"I heard 'The Victors.' I heard the best fight song in the world," said Beilein, who was then a coach at Division II Le Moyne, and was attending the Final Four in Seattle with his wife, Kathleen.
"Kathleen and I looked at each other and said, 'This is the best fight song I have ever heard," Beilein recalled this week. "That's why it's so eerie to hear it today, that it ended up being my destination."
— Dave Skretta
CBS is enjoying its best Final Four ratings since 2005.
The network announced it averaged a 9.4 fast-national rating and 15.7 million viewers for the national semifinals on Saturday night. That's an increase of about 4 percent from the 9.0 rating and 15.3 million viewers that watched last year's Final Four in New Orleans.
Wichita State and Louisville earned an 8.7 rating and 14.5 million viewers for their game at the Georgia Dome, while the nightcap recorded a 10.2 rating and 17.1 million viewers.
The Cardinals and Wolverines are playing in the championship game Monday night.
— Dave Skretta
NCAA Finals Watch follows the Final Four games and all the activities surrounding the event as seen by journalists from The Associated Press from across Atlanta. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.