Wow. What an NCAA championship game. What a Final Four.
After a dud season, followed by a dud NCAA Tournament, college basketball fans were rewarded with a thrilling finish.
Two good semifinals – Louisville over Wichita State 72-68, Michigan over Syracuse 61-56 – followed by a rousing title game, Louisville over Michigan 82-76.
“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,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “This was a great college basketball game.”
Here’s what I saw and heard:
* “They are a tremendous offensive team,” Pitino said of Michigan.
That’s what we’ve been missing. Tremendous offense. Michigan shot 52.1 percent. Louisville shot 45.9 percent. The teams were a combined 16 of 34 from 3-point range.
* What an unbelievable first half. Some guy from Michigan named Spike Albrecht, who looked like he might have been a decent player at Pauls Valley High School, came into the game averaging 1.8 point. Then proceeded to 17 first-half points.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Literally. It’s as if Daniel Orton would score 17 first-half points for the Thunder in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Orton is averaging 1.8 points for the Thunder this season.
Then Luke Hancock stole the show from Albrecht. Hancock, who scored 20 points in the semifinal against Wichita State, came off the bench against Michigan and nailed 3-pointers on four straight possessions. Louisville was dead in the water, trailing 35-23. But in a two-minute span, the Cardinals had clawed within 36-35.
Pitino started playing Hancock a lot more in the NCAA Tournament and said Louisville’s halfcourt offense got much better because of it.
“I just try to play off Russ (Smith) and Peyton (Siva),” Hancock said. “They’re so good at getting you open shots. Russ and Peyton lead the show.”
Hancock transferred from George Mason University, after Jim Larranaga left GMU to take the Miami job.
* Siva, yes. Smith, I don’t know. Siva was sensational, with 18 points, hard-earned with continual drives to the basket. He had six assists and two turnovers.
But Smith, who is supposed to be Louisville’s star, I don’t see it. Haven’t seen it in any Louisville games. The guy does dumb stuff. He kept Michigan alive with a series of dubious plays: a quick 3-point shot when Louisville was up eight with 21/2 minutes to go, a foul 40 feet from the basket with Louisville up eight with 1:40 to go and a cross-court pass thrown out of bounds with Louisville up six with 1:34 to go.
* You know, I can’t help but like Pitino. I know he’s got skeletons in his closet. But man, the ego we see with the other big-timers – the insufferable Jim Boeheim, the arrogant Mike Krzyzewski – is not there with Pitino.
Everyone talked about what a weekend it was for Pitino – his son, Richard, got the Minnesota job; his horse Goldencents won the Santa Anita Derby; the Basketball Hall of Fame announced Pitino had been elected; and finally Louisville wins the NCAA title.
But what a career for Pitino. First coach to win NCAA titles at two schools, and they just happen to be arch-rivals. Pitino became a head coach at age 25, for Boston U., and had the Terriers in the NCAA Tournament by his fourth season. Then took the Providence job and had the Friars in the Final Four two years later, at the age of 34.
Went to the NBA, led the Knickerbockers to a 52-30 record his second season with a playoff series win, then jumped to Kentucky, where he was superb.
After a bad turn with the Celtics, Pitino returned to the college scene. Can you believe it: Pitino just finished his 13th season at Louisville.
* Great story from over the weekend. Pitino talked about how he almost took the Michigan job back in 2000. His wife wanted him to take the Louisville job; she wanted to return to the state of Kentucky.
Pitino told his wife no way could a Kentucky coaching icon go coach at Louisville. He said the fans would make life miserable.
Then Joanne Pitino did something we all should do more often. Call out these coaches who always are pontificating about others but rarely hold themselves to the same standard.
“You’re always saying to live one day as a lion than 1,000 days as a lamb,” Joanne Pitino told her husband. “Well, you’re a f****** lamb.”
Rick Pitino took the Louisville job.
* If you read my blog Monday, you know that Larry Brown said he didn’t watch the tape of the 1988 OU-Kansas title game until 20 years later. Pitino was on ESPN radio Tuesday morning and referred to having already watched the tape.
* Pitino said the title game was a well-officiated game. But I thought it was horrible. The CBS analysts thought Michigan got the worst of it, but I thought Louisville got the worst of it. Either way, it was an out-of-control game, physically.
* Lots of criticism over Michigan coach John Beilein sitting point guard Trey Burke for the final 12 minutes of the first half, with two fouls. Beilein typically doesn’t play anyone with two fouls in the first half. And Michigan prospered without him. Albrecht replaced Burke.
The Louisville run, led by Hancock, came late in the first half.
“If they had done it earlier in the half, around the 10‑minute mark,” Beilein said, he might have reinserted Burke. “I would never play Trey with two minutes to go in the first half. I think that would be crazy. You could see he had four fouls anyway.
“The mindset of coaches today, if a guy’s got two fouls, he’s going to attack ‘em, he’s going to attack ‘em, he’s going to attack ‘em. You’re just going to give up baskets. All of a sudden that lead would have evaporated. Eight or nine minutes to go, might have made a difference. With two or three minutes to go, we’re up by one at half, the Player of the Year in every poll everywhere, was not in. So we felt really good at halftime.”
* The awful Louisville uniforms almost were enough to make me glad the Cardinals didn’t join the Big 12.
* CBS didn’t overplay the Kevin Ware story Monday night. Guess CBS paid attention to all the criticism from overplaying it Saturday night.
* Siva talking about Pitino: “Well, this is why I love Coach P so much. At halftime he kept asking me like, ‘Do you know the plays? You keep looking over at me and asking me what plays to run.’ Yeah, I know the plays. In the second half, he let me call the plays, what I saw out on the court. That’s what I do, try to be an extension of him, try to gather my guys, get them in the right position. As a point guard for this team, it’s my duty to create good shots, take care of the ball, play good ball, play good defense. Coach P kept telling me, Dig in, dig in, dig in. They was knocking down some difficult shots in the first half. Luckily we wore them down. We got a big win tonight.”
* Pitino lost his mind earlier in the season and told his team he would get a tattoo if it won the NCAA title. Pitino cracked that these guys say hello and get a tattoo.
But maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Siva was asked what kind of tattoo Pitino should get.
“Get my name,” Siva cracked. “I told some reporters he should get a lower back tattoo. He said, ‘Does it sting?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t have any tattoos.’”
Said Hancock, “I don’t have any tattoos. But we have a couple ideas. I don’t think he knew what he was getting into when he signed up for that one.”