No, this is quite a team – all the way down the roster.
Fearlessly attacking Syracuse’s suffocating zone in the first half, getting big contributions off the bench, and hanging on for dear life at the end, the Wolverines advanced to the national championship game with a 61-56 victory over the Orange in the Final Four on Saturday night.
So put away those comparisons to the Fab Five.
This group of young stars is determined to leave its own legacy.
“We’ve been a team all year,” said coach John Beilein, whose Wolverines were playing in the Final Four for the first time since 1993, when the Fab Five lost for the second straight time in the national title game. “It was great.”
Michigan (31-7) will be going for its first national title since 1989 when it faces Louisville on Monday at the Georgia Dome. Syracuse (30-10) failed to complete an all-Big East final in the fabled league’s last season before a major overhaul.
Louisville was established as a 4 1/2-point title game favorite.
Don’t expect that to bother the brash young Wolverines a bit. They showed they could win even when their best weapon, Associated Press player of the year Trey Burke, was having a really ugly night.
He scored just seven points on 1-of-8 shooting.
“We know Trey is our leader, and sometimes he’s not going to have a game like he’s had all season,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who led Michigan with 13 points. “That’s when our team stepped up.”
Trailing 58-56, the Orange had a chance to force overtime. But Brandon Triche was called for a foul when Jordan Morgan stepped in to take the charge with 19.2 seconds left.
“Jordan is our best charge-taker,” Beilein said. “He stood in there and took a good one.”
After Jon Horford made only one of two free throws, Syracuse called timeout and set up a play. Curiously, the Orange didn’t attempt a tying 3-pointer. Instead, Trevor Cooney drove the lane looking to put up an easier shot. But the ball was swatted away, Michigan saved it from going out of bounds and Morgan wound up taking a long pass the other way.
He threw down a thunderous slam with just over a second remaining to cap the triumph.
Triche blamed himself for driving the ball recklessly into the lane when Syracuse had a chance to tie it.
“I was just trying to make a play for the team,” he said. “I probably should have made a better decision, probably should have pulled up for the jump shot. … I did see him, but I figured, I was already in the air jumping.”
With Burke struggling to get open looks and misfiring even when he did, Michigan got an unexpected contribution off the bench from freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht.
LeVert scored eight points and Albrecht chipped in with six – all of them crucial after the Wolverines went cold in the second half and struggled to put away the Orange.
“We had a lot of guys in there,” Beilein said. “You never know who the outlier is, you never know who’s going to come in and get that done.”
Of course, there’s nothing unusual about Michigan getting big performances from first-year players. This team starts three freshmen – Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas – which, of course, rekindles memories of the great Fab Five teams.
These kids want nothing to do with the comparisons, saying they haven’t done nearly enough to be mentioned in the same breath with a team that changed the face of college basketball.
Well, if the Wolverines can win their next game, they’ll accomplish something that eluded the Fab Five: a national title.
Syracuse was looking to give 68-year-old Jim Boeheim another title, a decade after the Orange won it all in their last trip to the Final Four. Boeheim has no plans to retire, but his quest for a championship is on hold for another year.
“I told you I’m not going to answer that question unless you ask that of every coach,” Boeheim snapped at a reporter when asked about his future. “I never indicated at any time that I’m not coming back.”
Michigan won this game in the opening 20 minutes, doing exactly what it needed to do against Syracuse’s suffocating 2-3 zone: knock down open 3s, crash the boards, and work the ball inside and out with crisp, rapid-fire passes.
“I thought we got off to a really bad start defensively in the first half,” Boeheim said. “We just didn’t have the movement that we’ve had, and Michigan took advantage of it. Our offense was not good in the first half or the second half. Second half, we got our defense going a lot better, and got back in the game in spite of our offense.”
When Syracuse started extending its perimeter defense, looking to cut off the long-range shots, Michigan created an open look late in the half with a nifty bit of ball movement. Robinson – like Hardaway, the son of a former NBA star – took a pass, whipped it ball to LeVert, who dribbled a couple of times and fed the ball back to Robinson for an open 15-footer.
Nothing but net.
The Wolverines began to pull away from Syracuse even without much of a contribution from Burke. He finally scored his first points with just under a minute remaining in the first half, swishing a 3 from nearly the same spot on the court where he made the long shot that stunned top-seeded Kansas.
It would be Burke’s only basket of the night.
“At the end of the day, it wasn’t offense,” he said. “A lot of us didn’t have good shooting nights, but it was defense that allowed us to advance.”
Burke came up huge in the South Regional, leading Michigan back from 14 points down with less than 7 minutes remaining against Kansas. He forced overtime with a long 3-pointer at the end of regulation, and
Wolverines finished off the 87-85 upset in overtime.
Syracuse, meanwhile, had taken its trademark defense to new levels of stinginess in the NCAA tournament.
The Orange arrived in Atlanta having surrendered a paltry 45.75 points over four games, holding Montana (34), top-seeded Indiana (50) and Marquette (39) to their lowest scoring totals of the season. Overall,
Syracuse’s tournament opponents had combined to shoot just 28.9 percent from field (61 of 211) and 15.4 percent from 3-point range (14 of 91).
Syracuse was brimming with confidence heading into the Final Four, believing its zone could shut down the Wolverines and its more experienced lineup would take advantage of Michigan’s youth.
But the Wolverines had more points by halftime than Montana, and nearly as many as Marquette managed in the regional final. Even though Hardaway missed a trey just before the buzzer sounded, Michigan sprinted off the court with a commanding 36-25 lead.
Syracuse didn’t have enough offensive firepower to come all the way back, shooting just 42 percent (23 of 55).
C.J. Fair scored 22 points, doing his best to rally the Orange all by himself. But Triche, with 11 points, was the only other Syracuse player in double figures.
With Michigan’s starters also struggling, the guys off the bench picked up the slack.
LeVert, who seemed headed for a redshirt early in the season and was known more for defense than offense, made a couple of 3-pointers in the opening half. He had connected just 11 times from that range coming into the Final Four.
Albrecht was another surprise. He, too, buried a couple of shots beyond the arc – one of them going through from the corner while he was sliding on his backside toward the Syracuse bench. Coming into Atlanta, he had made only a dozen 3-pointers the entire season.
There’s still another game to go.
“It’s going to be a great matchup,” said McGary, one of those Michigan freshmen. “They’re a team like Syracuse that also plays in Big East and they remind me of VCU the way they trap and can turn over the ball, so it should be a great matchup.”
The Wolverines routed VCU 78-53 in the second round of the tournament.
If they can win one more time, they’ll have bragging rights on the Fab Five.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
Louisville beats Wichita State 72-68 in Final Four
ATLANTA (AP) Russ Smith looked at the scoreboard, then at the clock, then over at the bench.
Louisville needed a run, but he had no idea where it was going to come from. The starters were struggling, the fouls were piling up and the only lift injured Kevin Ware could give the top-seeded Cardinals was an emotional one.
“It was like, “Man,”’ Smith said. “I was actually waiting for our run. And it happened. Luke exploded. That was actually what I was waiting for. Then Chane exploded. Then Peyton made a big layup. Then Tim
Henderson. It just kept going and going.”
And Louisville rode it all the way to the title game.
Luke Hancock scored 20 points off the bench, Henderson sparked a second-half rally with a pair of monster 3s and Louisville reminded everyone it can grind it out, too, advancing to the NCAA title game
Saturday night after escaping with a 72-68 victory over Wichita State.
Louisville will play Michigan, which beat Syracuse 61-56 in the other semifinal, for the national championship Monday night. The Cardinals (34-5) have had this game in their sights since losing to Kentucky in last year’s Final Four, and they got added motivation after Ware’s tibia snapped during last weekend’s Midwest Regional final, the bone poking through the skin.
Ware was on his feet when the final buzzer sounded, grinning and throwing his arms into the air.
“We’ve got to bring our best game,” Ware said. “It’s the last game of the season. If we lose, everything we’ve worked for just goes down the drain. That’s the last thing we want right now.”
Especially after such a close call against the ninth-seeded Shockers (30-9), who nearly pulled off their biggest upset of all.
Wichita State had knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga and Ohio State on its way to its first Final Four since 1965, and the Shockers had a 12-point lead on Louisville with 13:35 to play. It was the largest deficit all tournament for the Cardinals, who seemed lost after the emotional week following Ware’s gruesome injury.
But Louisville had come back to win five games after trailing by nine points or more already this year, including rallying from a 16-point deficit in the title game at the Big East tournament. Even coach Rick Pitino’s horse, Goldencents, had to rally to win the Santa Anita Derby, and a spot in the Kentucky Derby, on Saturday.
This rally trumped them all.
“We just played super hard,” said Smith, who led the Cardinals with 21 points. “Nobody wanted to go home.”
Henderson, the walk-on who was forced into increased playing time because of Ware’s injury, made those back-to-back 3s to spark a 21-8 run. While Hancock and Behanan were knocking down shots, Smith and Peyton Siva were turning up the heat on the Shockers, forcing them into seven turnovers in the final seven minutes after they’d gone more than 26 minutes without one.
The first came when Siva darted in to strip the ball away from Carl Hall. Siva fed Hancock, who drilled a 3 that gave Louisville a 56-55 lead, its first since the end of the first half.
“Down the stretch, we were just loose with the ball, we just didn’t take care of it, pretty much,” said Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead, who had just 2 points on 1-of-10 shooting. “I can’t give you an explanation – it just happened.”
Cleanthony Early would give the Shockers one more lead, converting a three-point play. But Siva scored and then Smith stole the ball and took it in for an easy layup that gave Louisville a 60-58 lead with 4:47 left. Louisville fans erupted, and even Ware was on his feet, throwing up his arms and clapping. The Cardinals extended the lead to 65-60 on a tip-in of a Smith miss and another 3 by Hancock.
Wichita State had one last chance, pulling within 68-66 on Early’s tip in with 22 seconds left. But the Shockers were forced to foul, and Smith and Hancock made their free throws to seal the victory.
As the final buzzer sounded, Chane Behanan tossed the ball high into the air and Henderson and Hancock did a flying shoulder bump at midcourt.
“It’s just a mix of emotions, of feelings. It hurts to have to lose and be the end of the season,” said Early, who led the Shockers with 24 points. “But these guys fought to the end, and we had a great season and keep our heads high and know the grind doesn’t stop.”
The Cardinals were the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, and they steamrolled their way through their first four games, winning by an average of almost 22 points. They limited opponents to 59 points and 42 percent shooting while harassing them into almost 18 turnovers a game, setting an NCAA tourney record with 20 steals against North Carolina A&T.
The presence of Ware was supposed to provide even more motivation for Louisville. He urged his teammates to “just go win the game” before being wheeled off the court on a stretcher last weekend. Three days later, he joined the Cardinals as they made the trip to the Final Four in Atlanta, Ware’s hometown.
The Cardinals have modified their warm-up T-shirts in Ware’s honor – they now read “Ri5e to the Occasion,” with Ware’s No. 5 on the back. He had a seat at the end of the bench, his right leg propped up on towels, and every one of the starters went to shake his hand after being introduced.
But whether it was the roller-coaster of the last week, the expectations or just Wichita State, the Cardinals seemed out of sorts much of the night. Wayne Blackshear and Gorgui Dieng went scoreless, and Siva was just 1-of-9.
“There’s a reason our starters played poorly, because Wichita State is that good,” Pitino said
Wichita State may not have the names or pedigree of a Louisville, Syracuse or Michigan. But what the Shockers lacked in star power they more than made up for in hustle and heart. This, after all, was a team with one player (Carl Hall) who salvaged his career after working in a light bulb factory and two more (Armstead and Ron Baker) who paid their own ways in their first years.
The Shockers barely seemed to notice that vaunted Louisville press until the final minutes of the game. They didn’t rush shots, working it around until they got a look they liked – Louisville was called for more than one foul late in the shot clock, including one on Smith with only a second left – and they were relentless on the backboards.
And that “play angry” defense? Now the Cardinals have an idea of how their opponents have felt. Wichita State bottled Louisville up inside, never letting Gorgui Dieng be a factor, and the Cardinals were continually forced to put up awkward and bad shots from outside.
“We were kind of waiting to make our run,” Hancock said. “Obviously you’re a little concerned when you’re down by 12 in the second half. We just had to turn up our intensity, maybe gamble a little more.”
Louisville was struggling so badly that Ware actually got out of his seat at one point, hobbling over to the Louisville huddle.
“He just wanted to tell us that we needed to pick it up,” Siva said. “We know how much it would mean for him to be out there. He just tried to give us whatever we needed, the extra motivation, the extra boost to get over the hump. That’s what he did.”
The Shockers have had trouble hanging onto leads, and this game was no different. After Henderson’s 3s, the Cardinals were off and running, all the way to the last game of the season.
“Coach Pitino kept telling us to go out there and have fun and keep playing and we were going to win. Stop hanging our heads,” Siva said.
“That’s what we did.”
March Madness – The Final Four: Louisville beats Wichita State 72-68 / Michigan downs Syracuse 61-56 is a post from: PhatzRadio.com
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