College Basketball Nation: 2013 Final Four

Finding a sentimental, marketable use for the NCAA's would-be discarded Final Four courts is now officially en vogue.

The trend began last summer with Kentucky (of course), which last summer received the 2012 Superdome Final Four floor in a donation from NCAA corporate sponsor Northwestern Mutual, the first of its kind. UK coach John Calipari immediately placed 3,000 square feet of the floor in UK's updated basketball locker rooms, just one more brilliant minor recruiting flourish for a guy who has rewritten the entire book on said. Assuming Northwestern Mutual was happy to keep footing the bill and flipping courts to their national champion counterparts, it was safe to expect other programs to follow in the Wildcats' wake.

Northwestern Mutual followed through again this spring, purchasing and then donating the 2013 Georgia Dome court to the Louisville Cardinals. So, what will U of L do with its memorabilia hardwood? As the Cardinals revealed at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, they already have a few things in mind.

The first is ceremonial. Louisville will cut out the heart of the court -- which features that tidy peach-oriented 2013 Final Four logo, which is only going to get more awesomely kitschy with age -- and hang it in an immense 24 x 28, 6,000-pound frame in the lobby of the KFC Yum! Center. Fans will get a gander every time they enter the building, and that will probably feel very good.

It might not feel quite as good as Phase 2 of the Cardinals plan: Charity auction! After center court is carved and framed, whatever hardwood remains will be chopped up into small pieces and stamped with commemorative logos -- 1,000 of which Rick Pitino will sign. The pieces will then be auctioned off to fans.

This is normally the part where we'd criticize another instance of crass college sports commercialism, but wait, there's more: According to Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein, proceeds from the auction will go to benefit pediatric cancer research. That last bit transforms the entire idea. Louisville probably could have profited from Northwestern Mutual's donation in a real way, and many Cardinals fans would have happily dipped back into their wallets for a real-deal tchotchke to hang in their dens. Instead, that revenue will go to benefit a totally worthy cause. (At the risk of drawing too near a connection, the choice of charity is imbued with even more meaning given the brilliant Final Four performance of forward Luke Hancock in front of his cancer-stricken father, who lost his three-year battle with the disease in June).

In other words: Three cheers for Louisville. If this is going to be a trend -- and thanks to Northwestern Mutual, apparently it is -- then it's hard to imagine a better use for all that leftover wood than its transformation into tangible resources for people trying to cure one of humanity's most pervasive and tragic diseases. Pitino and company set a classy precedent here. Let's hope future champions follow.
1. New American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco relished the moment Monday night as one of his teams -- for this season and, yes, for next -- won a national title. He was guaranteed of another heading into the women's final Tuesday night, which featured American-bound current Big East teams Louisville and Connecticut. It is true that Louisville is heading to the ACC in the fall of 2014. But that won't keep the league from celebrating the titles this fall. The old Big East guard is trying to brand the new league as the American rather than as the AAC. Aresco doesn't want the acronym used if possible.

2. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he gave Tarik Black a Tuesday deadline to decide if he wanted to stay with the Tigers. He did not, even though he was graduating. "I want guys to be here with enthusiasm to be here,'' said Pastner. Black will transfer and try to play immediately next season. The Tigers also lost Adonis Thomas, who is declaring for the NBA draft. But the American-bound Tigers have one of the top recruiting classes in the country. "(Black) is a good guy and I wish him the very best. He graduated," Pastner said. "But we'll be fine. We're still really talented. We've got the main corps and we've got the No. 2 recruiting class.''

3. I had new Minnesota coach Richard Pitino on "Katz Korner" on Tuesday and I was struck by his confidence. Pitino is just like his father in that regard. Pitino had no hesitation in taking the Minnesota job once offered. Now, one would assume that no one coaching at Florida International would turn that down. But Pitino definitely has the confidence that he will win. Pitino's hire was overshadowed by the events of last week; now he's got to get into the grind of the new job. He was on the Georgia Dome floor Monday night after the NCAA title game, spent the post-game hours with his dad -- Rick, head coach of the champion Louisville Cardinals -- and said they didn't get to bed until 5 a.m. before Richard was up at 7 a.m. Richard Pitino now must spend his time wisely, re-recruiting the local players and trying to make inroads with a stellar underclassman crew in the state of Minnesota.

Podcast: Katz, Greenberg talk Louisville win

April, 9, 2013
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Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg discuss how Louisville was able to beat Michigan and become the NCAA champions.
ATLANTA -- That's what we all want.

That's what the sport needs and craves.

What Louisville and Michigan did Monday night in the national championship game must be duplicated for college basketball to thrive. Officials need to find ways to increase freedom of movement when the rules committee meets next month.

Players need to work on their skill set, especially making the open jumper and 3-pointer. Converting on the offensive putback and at the free throw line is a must, too.

Louisville won the national title 82-76 and both teams made eight 3s, attempting nearly the same amount of free throws and shooting better than 45 and 52 percent, respectively.

Beauty.

For the rest of Andy Katz's story, click here.
ATLANTA -- Chane Behanan's near-strip tease on the elevated floor of the Georgia Dome began with an honest mistake.

As his teammates snipped down the nets to commemorate the program's first national championship since 1986 on Monday evening, a reporter asked Behanan to confirm his listed weight of 250 pounds.

Behanan -- who contributed 15 points, 12 rebounds and 7 offensive boards -- rejected that description and joked about removing his jersey to prove his point.

"Nah, I'm 240. Who says I'm 250? You want me to take this shirt off?" he said.

That's Chane Behanan.

He's the guy Rick Pitino banned from interviews, part of a suspension for an undisclosed matter that occurred at the beginning of the season.

He's the sophomore who suggested that Pitino should get a tattoo of his name after the Cardinals' 82-76 win over the Wolverines.

He's the man who said he wanted to "chill with my mama" postgame; the kid who sang "I've got money on mind" when he entered the locker room to speak with the media.

He's the gregarious one who spontaneously howled into the microphone as he waited for the postgame news conference to begin, the one who predicted an undefeated season for the Cardinals when he was just a freshman.

He's the forward who sat down with his hat cocked and his feet stretched across the podium as though it were a love seat, while his teammates stood and waved on the podium as they accepted the national championship trophy.

And he's also the player who told Pitino that he had no reason to worry about Monday night. He's the second-year man who ruined Michigan's goal of winning its first national championship in more than 20 years because he hurled his tight end frame around the paint and confiscated loose balls.

On Monday night, the laid-back kid from Cincinnati was both the star and the jokester his teammates and coaches embrace.

For Myron Medcalf's full story, click here.
ATLANTA -- The song wasn't good enough, not this time.

The spliced moments of highlight dunks and emotional victories set to the soppy strains of Luther Vandross seemed almost trite in comparison to what was unfolding in real time Monday night at the Georgia Dome.

There, behind the Louisville bench, sat the Hancock family -- father Bill, mother Van, brothers Will, Matt, Robert and Stephen, plus sister Melissa. Their son and brother Luke had just been named the most outstanding player of the Final Four, the first bench player in the history of the NCAA tournament to get the award.

Bill is gravely ill but he willed himself to attend the Final Four despite a body that fought him every step of the way. Luke's first stop after Louisville topped Michigan 82-76 for its first national championship since 1986 was his father's embrace.

Not far from Luke and Bill was Peyton Siva, practically jumping over the media table to embrace his family. His dad, Peyton Sr., dressed in an airbrushed Kevin Ware tank top, was there celebrating and fist pumping.

Less than 10 years ago and lost in a haze of drugs, he wanted to kill himself, pulled back from the brink by his 13-year-old namesake.

In the middle of the court, on the makeshift trophy-presentation stage, gathered the extended Pitino family -- kids, in-laws, grandchildren, the whole gang. Front and center sat Rick Pitino, now a newly minted Hall of Famer, a Kentucky Derby horse owner and the first man to take two schools to a national title. Only three years ago, he was a punch line mired in an embarrassing scandal. His wife, Joanne, sat alongside him, their legs dangling over the edge like little kids while everyone made Louisville L's with their fingers.

On Wednesday, the same day Pitino got the call from the Hall, the couple celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary, 37 years of loss and triumph, strength and struggle.

And at one end of the court, there was Ware on his crutches, the net lowered to accommodate him and his crutches, making the final snip on the only nets Louisville has cut all season.

There are shining moments that have the shelf life of a video, and there are life moments that never die, shared by a group of players thrown together to form a team but that, if they're lucky, become something more.

"These are my brothers," Siva said. "My brothers."

College basketball's latest national champion is a collection of incredulous moments. One emotional journey is more improbable than the next, all steered by a man whose life journey is perhaps more halved by pain and joy than any other coach in the game.

For Dana O'Neil's full column, click here.
HancockRobert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsLuke Hancock is the first bench player to be the Final Four's most outstanding player.

ATLANTA -- Beginning exactly one year ago today, we've known, or thought we've known, what Louisville was. Louisville was the best defensive team in the country.

That's usually as far as it went. The Cardinals dominated defensively in 2012, and after their hyper-stingy, brick-compensating defense carried them to an ugly-but-effective Final Four run and nearly every player of note returned for 2012-13, it was pretty easy to peg Rick Pitino's team.

Louisville would struggle to score. It would guard like crazy. Its fans would hope that was enough.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Atlanta: The Cardinals started scoring. And scoring. And scoring. By the time the confetti covered the Georgia Dome floor Monday night, by the time Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and the rest of the national champions finished their thrilling 82-76 victory over Michigan and their One Shining Moment, it was time to be real about a couple of things.

The first: That was a great basketball game.

The second: Louisville was a great offensive team, too.

"You know, a lot of times when you get to the Final Four, you get to a championship, the game's not always great, not always pretty," Pitino said Monday night. "This was a great college basketball game.

"They are a tremendous offensive team. Fortunately for us, when we started this tournament, and Luke [Hancock] started playing a lot more minutes, we became a great half-court offensive basketball team. And tonight was as good as it gets."

The man speaks the truth. In defiance of trends, easy characterizations and well-entrenched narrative, Louisville won the 2012-13 national title because its offense was good enough to best the best offensive team in the country. Here's how.

Two words: Luke Hancock. You don't have to dig too deep into the scouting reports to figure out why Hancock was named the 2013 NCAA tournament most outstanding player or why he was so crucial to Louisville's offense in its two Georgia Dome wins. In two Final Four games, Hancock shot 8-of-10 from 3-point range. On Monday night, he went a perfect 5-of-5, and if that wasn't already good enough, each shot carried with it the maximum possible impact. The first four came during the final minutes of the first half against Michigan, after Spike Albrecht had replaced unanimous national player of the year Trey Burke, who was saddled with his second foul at the 11-minute mark.

Instead of scraping by without its star, Michigan surged, because Albrecht had one of the most insane -- or at least one of the most unlikely -- halves in tournament history. He poured in 17 points in 16 minutes on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3. Albrecht's final bucket of the half, a layup with 3:55 remaining, gave the Wolverines a 33-21 lead. Michigan looked like it could get to the half with a double-digit lead despite having Burke for just six total minutes. Pitino took a timeout.

What happened in the next three minutes would define the rest of the game. At 3:33, Hancock made two free throws. At 2:59, he made a 3-pointer from the right wing. At 2:38, he made another, same spot. At 1:53, he made another. At 0:59, another. He had cut Michigan's Albrecht-infused lead to just 36-35. It was like Albrecht never happened.

Hancock's play in the second half was just as important. He made three assists in the middle of the half, he sank his fifth 3 to put Louisville up 10 with 3:27 left to play and his two free throws at the 29-second mark pushed the Cardinals' threatened lead back to six points, a deficit insurmountable even for Burke and the Wolverines.

Hancock was the hero in the final minutes of Saturday's shaky win over Wichita State, too, and so his final line for the Final Four weekend looked like this: 42 points in 62 minutes on 11-of-15 from the field, 12-of-17 from the free throw line, 8-of-10 from beyond the arc. You can empty the thesaurus of adjectives and not come close to describing how good, or how important, he was. And all off the bench.

Best of all, Hancock was able to post that performance for the ages in front of his ailing father, an emotional angle to the George Mason transfer's already remarkable story.

"It's been a long road," Hancock said. "There's really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here."

On Monday night, after the Louisville players finished addressing the media, the NCAA moderator read off a remarkable stat: Hancock had become the first bench player in the history of the tournament to win most outstanding player. When he heard his name, he paused. As the moderator finished reading the stat, Hancock nodded nonchalantly -- as if to say: Yep, that sounds about right. It couldn't have been more fitting.

[+] EnlargePeyton Siva
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Siva carved up Michigan's defense on his way to 18 points and five assists.
Thing is? Louisville's offense was already really good. Hancock's description-defying Final Four performance would boost any offense regardless of the context, but it also could serve to obscure the fact that the Cardinals had been great on the offensive end of the floor for much of the season and certainly throughout the NCAA tournament.

To wit: In their first three tournament games against North Carolina A&T, Colorado State and Oregon, the Cardinals posted 1.18 points per possession. Hancock scored just 17 of them, in 18, 19 and 22 minutes, respectively. And, as ESPN Insider John Gasaway wrote in advance of the title game Insider, those points came despite opponents turning it over on just 18 percent of their possessions. Those games weren't of the narrative-friendly, Louisville-forces-turnovers-and-that's-how-it-scores variety. They were just great offensive performances, pure and simple.

That said, that doesn't mean Louisville wasn't happy to force turnovers whenever possible; on Saturday night, after a near-flawless first 34 minutes, Wichita State's seven turnovers in the final six minutes were a huge factor in the Cards' eventual comeback win.

But Monday was a different story: Michigan, the least turnover-prone team in the country, turned it over at that pre-Final Four rate (18.5 percent) and scored 1.17 points per trip. Louisville scored 1.26. And there you have it.

Oh, and before we forget: Russ Smith was awesome. No doubt about it, Smith had one of his worst games of the season Monday night. He finished 3-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-6 from 3. He committed the usual handful of questionable and/or poorly timed fouls, and his turnovers, particularly one in crunch time, gave the impression that Bad Russ, the dark side of Russdiculous, was once more rearing his ugly head.

That would have been sad. Smith has had an immense individual season on both ends of the floor -- the rare star as good defensively as he was scoring. Smith averaged 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game this season, and managed to post an offensive rating of 110.0 despite high usage (32.1) and shot (32.6) rates (which typically hurt players' efficiency). There were few sights in the game as fun as Smith tearing the ball away from an opponent, deciding in a split-second -- no matter what the defense -- that he was getting it to the rim and then doing exactly that, usually in mind-blowing fashion.

But Smith's Russ-iest moments came when the lights were brightest, none more so in the regular season than in South Bend, Ind., where the Cardinals lost in five overtimes. Smith's silly-play-to-crucial-moment ratio (which is a real stat I just made up) achieved previously unseen levels that night, when everyone tuned in to the featured prime-time game and learned all they thought they needed to know about Smith.

The Final Four was like that, too. Russdiculous didn't play well Saturday and was even worse Monday, and many casual fans might remember his season for that. But for most of the past five months, his breakneck genius was the main reason Louisville's offense worked so well. It would be a shame to forget that.

The Cardinals didn't win with defense. They didn't need to. There were many impressive things about this Louisville team: the way it rallied around injured guard Kevin Ware and won the national title without him, how quickly Gorgui Dieng turned from a raw shot-blocker into an all-around player, Siva's screen-exploiting ability to slice defenses in half, Chane Behanan's strongman work on the offensive boards, how rapidly it turned defense into offense, how casually it erased daunting deficits, how Pitino often seemed to move his matchup zone around like telekinetic putty, unleashing traps and shifts like a wild-eyed conductor.

But perhaps the most impressive thing of all is this: In 2012, Louisville finished the season ranked No. 1 in efficiency defense and No. 105 on offense. In 2013, it again wielded the nation's No. 1 defense.

This time, over 35 wins and five losses, the Cardinals' offense scored 1.18 points per trip -- good for fifth-best in the country. And on Monday night, good enough to beat the best at its own game.

Afterward, Pitino called his team's exhilarating victory the product of "two great offensive teams doing battle."

He was right. Lo and behold, for everything else Louisville was this season, it was that too -- a great offensive team. And now it's the national champion.

What a mighty difference 12 months can make.

For Luke Hancock, a blaze of glory

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ATLANTA -- Luke Hancock wouldn't let go of the national championship trophy.

He had it in his arms at the podium. He carried it with him down to do more interviews. He walked back to the locker room, clutching it close to him.

The national title belongs to all of Louisville, to the Cardinals, to coach Rick Pitino, to everyone on the team, including the iconic Kevin Ware.

But this trophy, the culmination of 27 years since their last title, doesn't get back to the Cardinal nation without Hancock.

Seriously, who had him in their most-outstanding-player bracket? Nobody. Hancock, the onetime George Mason cast-off, was the catalyst for Louisville and the deserved most outstanding player. He had the honor of being the first non-starter to win the award -- not bad to get a first in the 75th year of the event.

"It's unbelievable," said Hancock, who had a Stanley Cup playoffs-like beard working in this NCAA tournament. "All the credit goes to my teammates. I just tried to play off Russ [Smith] and Peyton [Siva] as much as I can. They require so much attention sometimes. It's kind of unbelievable. I don't know. This is crazy."

[+] EnlargeLuke Hancock
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallLuke Hancock scored 42 points in the Final Four, including 22 in Louisville's win over Michigan.
Hancock scored 22 points off the bench in Louisville's 82-76 victory over Michigan on Monday night in one of the best national title games in the past two decades. Hancock didn't miss a 3-pointer, making all five attempts. He was money at the foul line, making 7 of 10. He didn't turn the ball over.

He also scored 20 points in Saturday's semifinal victory over Wichita State, making three 3s.

Hancock did all this while riding an emotional wave that few his age are built to handle.

He was a rock when he comforted Ware after the gruesome compound fracture in the first half of Louisville's Elite Eight win over Duke on March 31. He was here this week, dealing with angst during his greatest athletic moments as his ailing father, Bill, battled an undisclosed illness. Bill and his wife, Van, witnessed Hancock's quick shooting here in the Final Four.

"I couldn't have thought of anything better for him," Louisville teammate Tim Henderson said. "To be able to do that and have his dad witness it. It's incredible. It was like it was meant to be.

"Stuff like this happens all the time. You always have that player that goes under the radar and they just need that one big stage to shine. Luke got on the stage and he showed his stuff. I’m going to tell my grandkids I played with him. He’s a Louisville legend right now."

That's some heady stuff. But it's deserved. This is a player who never dreamed he would be in this position when he signed with George Mason.

"I wasn't recruited real high out of high school," Hancock said. "I went to prep school and picked up several offers. George Mason recruited me; coach [Jim] Larranaga made me feel like I was home at George Mason. So I went there. Then I ended up needing to transfer when he left.

"[The Louisville staff] made me feel like this was a home, that we'd have a chance to win a national title. I'm so excited for this team to be in this situation. It's been a long road. There's really 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."

Hancock was the catalyst for the Cardinals in their Big East tournament victory. He was the shooter who had to make shots here at the Final Four. Michigan's Spike Albrecht was the talk of the first half with 17 points, but he didn't score in the second.

Hancock had stamina, was consistent and made more plays that mattered in each of the two games.

"It was their four shooters against Luke," Pitino said. "Luke more than held his own."

Hancock grabbed the moment, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The points, the trophy and the title won't solve his father's illness. But Bill Hancock was there to witness his son's greatest athletic achievement. The memories Luke Hancock has, he owns them forever. And in a week in which he showed his maturity and compassion for the sports world to see, he was more than the most outstanding player of a two-game event; he was a true mensch -- a person with integrity and honor when it mattered most.

In loss, Michigan departs with pride

April, 9, 2013
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ATLANTA -- In the emotional locker-room moments Monday after his team lost 82-76 to Louisville in the national championship game, Michigan coach John Beilein had one message for his team: Do not hang your heads.

So the Wolverines held their chins up as they discussed their defeat -- only to show off red-rimmed eyes.

"We're so proud of what we accomplished,'' junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. "But it hurts to come so close."

This young, fourth-seeded team -- whose players now admit they even doubted themselves at times when they finished 5-5 over the last 10 games of the regular season -- performed even better than when it held the No. 1 ranking earlier this season. Thanks to an inspired (and inspiring) effort by freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht (a career-high 17 points), the Wolverines held as much as a 12-point lead in the first half.

And even after Louisville rallied, Wooden Award-winning ballhandler Trey Burke, back in the game in the second half after early foul trouble, kept trying to push them into position to prevail.

To read the rest of this story from Robbi Pickeral, click here.

Video: Tournament Encore -- title game

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Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf break down Louisville’s victory over Michigan in the national championship game.

Video: Louisville's Luke Hancock

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Andy Katz talks to Luke Hancock after the Louisville junior became the first bench player to take home Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.

Video: Michigan coach John Beilein

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John Beilein talks to Andy Katz about Michigan's loss to Louisville in the national title game.

Video: Michigan's Trey Burke

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Jeannine Edwards interviews sophomore guard Trey Burke, who scored 24 points in Michigan's loss to Louisville in the national title game.

Video: Louisville coach Rick Pitino

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Louisville coach Rick Pitino talks to Jeannine Edwards after capping off the season with his second national title.

Louisville's victory by the numbers

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLouisville's ability to finish at the rim made a big difference at game's end.

Perfection was the story for a Louisville team that lived up to its No. 1 overall seeding in the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals won their third national title (against no defeats), keyed by a perfect shooting performance from long range by an unlikely source.

Let’s run through some of the statistical highlights of the Cardinals' first NCAA tournament championship since 1986.

The history

Louisville ended the season on a 16-game winning streak. The Cardinals became the eighth school to win at least three national championships and the third overall No. 1 seed to win a national championship.

The Cardinals went 27 years between title victories, the second-longest drought by a team that has won multiple championships (Kansas went 36 seasons).

Rick Pitino became the first coach to win a Division I title with two schools (he won with Kentucky in 1996). This was Pitino’s 664th career win, tying legendary coach John Wooden for 25th all time.

Key to the game: Points in the paint

Louisville attempted 23 of its 35 second-half field goals in the paint, making 11 of those shots.

Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan combined to score 24 of Louisville’s 34 paint points, 18 of which came in the second half.

Siva’s 12 points in the paint were his second-most in any game in the last four NCAA tournaments (scored 14 in 2012 versus Davidson).

Also key: Louisville held Michigan to two second-chance points in the second half Monday after allowing 13 to the Wolverines in the first half.

Hancock’s perfection

Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock finished with 22 points and was 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

That’s the most makes without a miss on 3-pointers in a Division I title game. The previous mark of three was shared by Taurean Green (2007 Florida) and Wayne Ellington (2009 North Carolina), each of whom won a national title that year.

Siva a difference-maker

Siva starred for Louisville, particularly in the second half.

His box score line put him in impressive championship company.

Siva finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals, the first player to hit all of those benchmarks in a national championship game since steals became an official stat in 1986.

He's the first player with an 18-6-5 combo in a title game since Derrick Rose in 2008.

Burke, Michigan elite in defeat

Trey Burke became the third Wooden Award winner to lose in the national championship game. The other two players were Larry Bird and Elton Brand.

Michigan shot 52.1 percent from the field, the highest field goal percentage by a losing team in the national championship since Georgetown in 1985 (54.7 percent).

Early on, that was keyed by Spike Albrecht, who scored a career-high 17 points and went 4-for-5 from 3-point range. Albrecht went 9-for-10 from 3-point range in the tournament, just shy of matching Sam Cassell’s mark for most 3-pointers in a tournament without a miss (nine for Florida State in 1993).

Michigan fell to 1-5 all-time in national title games. The Wolverines' .167 winning percentage is the worst of any team with at least five championship game appearances. The five losses are third-most all time.
 
Luke Hancock's hot shooting night won him Most Outstanding Player honors.

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