Louisville, Michigan look to create lasting bond
“The Fab Five was a great team. I mean, a really great team,” said freshman guard Caris LeVert, who came off the bench to score eight points against the Orange. “They did some great things for our school.”
But these guys can do something the Fab Five never did _ win it all.
“Just making it to the Final Four, we are going to hang up a banner in the Crisler Center,” said another freshman, Glenn Robinson III. “But we aren’t done. Having the chance to hang another one up for a national championship … is all kind of surreal to us.”
Both teams got to this point with crucial assists from the backups.
LeVert and Spike Albrecht _ yep, another freshman _ both hit a pair of 3-pointers in Michigan’s semifinal win, points that were desperately needed with player of the year Trey Burke struggling through a brutal night. The sophomore guard went 1-for-8 and finished with seven points, just the second time this season he’s been held in single digits.
Burke said he’ll gladly cede scoring duties to someone else again Monday if the Cardinals take a similar approach to Syracuse.
“Pretty much every time I got the ball, I had two people in my face,” he said. “I tried not to force anything, but I probably forced two or three shots. That 3 I hit (from way out and his only basket of the game) wasn’t a good shot. But I try not to force things and just look for different ways to find the open man.”
Louisville, inspired by the gruesome injury to Kevin Ware but needing others to step up while he’s down, got an even bigger contribution off the bench than Michigan.
Luke Hancock scored 20 points. Walk-on Tim Henderson, moving up in the rotation because of Ware’s broken leg, knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers that turned the momentum when it looked as though Wichita State might pull off another shocker.
There’s always a chance for the more obscure players to step up on the biggest stages.
“Those guys, not that you don’t pay attention to them, but your strategy is not toward them,” Pitino said. “We’re all trying to stop the great players defensively, choreograph our defensive plan to stop the great players.”
But there’s no doubt that Michigan needs Burke to have a much better game, especially against Louisville’s fearsome press, just as the Cardinals will be counting on Russ Smith to lead the way. He scored 21 points in the semifinals despite a woeful night at the foul line.
Smith is on the verge of completing quite a personal journey, considering it looked for a while like he might not even finish his career with the Cardinals. Unhappy with his playing time and constantly sparring with Pitino, the now-junior guard considered transferring after his freshman season.
Boy, he’s sure glad he stayed.
“I was leaving, but I talked to my dad and decided to come back,” Smith remembered. “I decided to work hard and try to earn some minutes.”