ATLANTA – Start studying, Louisville.
Michigan spoiled what would have been one heck of a going-away party for the Big East on Saturday, beating Syracuse 61-56 to earn a spot in Monday night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game against Louisville. It will be the first time the Wolverines and Cardinals have played since 1978.
“We don’t have to prepare too much if we play Syracuse,” Pitino said after Louisville rallied for a 72-68 victory over ninth-seeded Wichita State. “We’ve got a lot of preparation if we play Michigan.”
Louisville (34-5), which has won 15 straight, is an early 41/2-point favorite over Michigan (31-7).
This is Louisville’s first appearance in the championship game since 1986, when it won its second title. The Wolverines are back in the title game for the first time since 1993, when Chris Webber and Co. lost to North Carolina. Who did Michigan beat to reach that title game? None other than Kentucky, coached by Pitino at the time.
“It’s going to be a great matchup,” said Mitch McGary, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds for Michigan.
Louisville got its first real scare of the tournament from ninth-seeded Wichita State, falling behind by 12 in the second half. But the Cardinals can grind it out, too, a fact that was all but forgotten as they steamrolled through their first four games of the NCAA tournament. Louisville had come back to win five games already this year after trailing by nine points or more, including the title game at the Big East tournament, and the Cardinals knew they had another run in them.
Sure enough, Luke Hancock knocked down one shot after another, walk-on Tim Henderson made back-to-back 3s and the Cardinals forced seven turnovers in the final seven minutes during a 30-13 run.
“I never think we’re going to lose,” Pitino said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to win. We have lost. But that’s the attitude: Pressing teams have to stay in there. We were fouling too much. Then we started making some steals, picking up the heat.”