Wichita State nearly pulled off another shocker, but number one Louisville came through in the end for a four-point win. The Shockers led nearly the entire game, but could not outlast a Cardinals team that just wouldn’t go away. The last time that Louisville made it to the NCAA Championship game was 1986, and they will face a Michigan team that beat Syracuse in a close contest. The championship game will be played Monday night, April 8, in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, and the last time the Wolverines played for the title was when they lost to North Carolina in 1993.
The number one-ranked Louisville Cardinals are slightly favored going into the game, with Michigan seeking their second national title to go along with the 1989 championship. Louisville also won the championship back in 1980, and Michigan coach John Beilein said that his Wolverines team is going to have their hands full. In a press conference after the win against Syracuse where Michigan never trailed after halftime, he praised Louisville’s Rick Pitino as “a brilliant coach with great schemes.”
If past history is any indicator, the Cardinals faithful can begin to celebrate. The two schools have not played each other since way back in the 1977 – ’78 and ’78 – ’79 seasons, when Michigan lost both games by a total of only four points. R.J. Bell of Pregame.com in Las Vegas says that Louisville has a 64% chance of winning the NCAA basketball championship, and the Cardinals currently stand as around a four-point favorite depending on which sportsbook you check. The Wolverines defeated Florida and Kansas to reach the semifinals, and had three players scoring at least 10 points against Syracuse.
This was the first game that Michigan’s Beilein has beaten Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim in 10 meetings, and was also the first loss in four semifinal game appearances for the Syracuse coach. In the earlier game, Wichita State exploded with eight unanswered points to take the early lead against Louisville, and actually had a commanding 47 – 35 lead with 13 minutes to go. Louisville began chipping away and the deeper bench for the Cardinals proved to be the difference in the ball game.
Pitino commented after the game that, “We beat a great team tonight.” It was a great day for the Louisville coach for another reason as well, as his thoroughbred, Goldencents, placed first in the Santa Anita Derby, locking up a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Russ Smith scored 21 for Louisville, with Luke Hancock contributing 20 off the bench, including six important points in the final two minutes. Going into the game, Louisville looked like the strongest of the four remaining teams, and they have now won 15 straight. Louisville (34 – 5) and Michigan (31 – 7) tip off at 9:23 pm EST in the Georgia Dome for what guarantees to be a great game.