ATLANTA (AP) - Rick Pitino knows how lasting one more win would be.
It would give everyone a reason to stay connected. It would create a lifetime bond.
To drive that point home, the Louisville coach showed his team the documentary on North Carolina State’s improbable title in 1983, the one that left coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking desperately for someone to hug, the one that his players still get together to reminisce about _ on and off camera.
“We weren’t Cinderellas like N.C. State,” Pitino said. “But I wanted them to understand that because (the Wolfpack) won a championship, for the rest of their lives they will sit around that table. Every year, they will get together _ for the rest of their lives.”
Michigan coach John Beilein is surely trying to instill a similar urgency in his young team, which faces the No. 1 seeded Cardinals in the national championship game Monday night.
“It’s really an eerie feeling,” Beilein said. “This is it. There’s two teams playing, and it’s us and Louisville.”
The Cardinals (34-5) have lived up to their billing as the tournament’s top overall seed, blowing through their first four opponents before rallying from a dozen points down in the second half to beat surprising Wichita State 72-68 in the national semifinals.
It’s been quite a run for the Louisville athletic program, in general. The women’s basketball team will be playing for a national championship Tuesday night, while the football team won a Big East title and stunned Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Even so, the Cardinals still feel a bit overlooked in their own state. The Kentucky Wildcats are the blue bloods of the bluegrass; Louisville is the school that knows it must work a little harder for a little love.
“We’re not a who’s who like Harvard and Yale in the alumni world,” Pitino said Sunday. “We’re a blue-collar school that supports each other. One of the coolest places I’ve ever worked.”
Football rules on the Michigan campus _ rightly so, said Tim Hardaway Jr., given that program’s long, storied history.
“We still have a ways to go,” said Hardaway, the Wolverines’ junior guard. “Football has a lot more national championships than we do.”
Maybe so, but the Wolverines (31-7) haven’t exactly been pushovers on the hardwood.
They won a national title in 1989, beating Seton Hall in overtime. They’ve lost three other times in the championship. The program is best known, of course, for the Fab Five, that group of five stellar recruits who led Michigan to back-to-back finals appearances in 1992 and `93.
This team is cut from the same mold, with three freshmen starters and two other first-year players who made big contributions in a semifinal victory over Syracuse.