Watching again from his seat at the end of the Louisville bench, his battered right leg propped up on a chair, Ware smiled and slapped hands with his teammates as they celebrated in the closing seconds, the victory coming just 30 miles from where he played his high school ball.
Ware’s awful injury will forever be linked to this tournament. Against Duke, he landed awkwardly, snapped his leg and was left writhing on the floor with the bone sticking through the skin. On this night, he hobbled gingerly onto the court with the aid of crutches, basking in a sea of confetti and streamers.
This one belonged to him as much as anyone on the court.
Siva added 18 points for the Cardinals, who closed the season on a 16-game winning streak, and Chane Behanan chipped in with 15 points and 12 rebounds as Louisville slowly but surely closed out the Wolverines (31-8).
Michigan was in the title game for the first time since the Fab Five lost the second of two straight championship games in 1993. Players from that team, including Chris Webber, cheered on the latest group of young stars.
But, like the Fab Five, national player of the year Trey Burke and a squad with three freshman starters came up short in the last game of the season.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far,” said Burke, who led the Wolverines with 24 points. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get past the second round. We fought. We fought up to this point, but Louisville was the better team today, and they’re deserving of the win.”
The first half, in particular, might have been the most entertaining 20 minutes of the entire men’s tournament.
Burke started out on fire for Michigan, hitting his first three shots and scoring seven points to match his output from the semifinal victory over Syracuse, when he made only 1-of-8 shots.
Albrecht took control when Burke picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench for the rest of the half. The kid whose nickname comes from his first pair of baseball spikes showed he’s a pretty good hoops player, knocking down one 3-pointer after another to send the Wolverines to a double-digit lead.
When Albrecht blew by Tim Henderson with a brilliant hesitation move, Michigan led 33-21 and Louisville was forced to call timeout. The freshman was mobbed on the Michigan bench, as if the Wolverines had already won the national title, with one teammate waving a towel in tribute.
Not so fast. Not against Louisville.
The Cardinals came back one more time.
“We needed a rally and we’ve been doing it for a couple of games straight, being down,” Hancock said. “We just had to wait and make our run.”
Burke, who played only six minutes in the first half because of the foul trouble, did his best to give Michigan its first championship since 1989. But he couldn’t do it alone. Albrecht was held scoreless after the break, and no one else posted more than 12 points for the Wolverines.