Staff Photo: Jason Braverman — Michigan's Trey Burke walks off the court as Louisville celebrates the NCAA National Championship on Monday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — With unsung heroes carrying both teams in the first half of the NCAA men's national championship game, the title ultimately came down to the leaders each had come to depend on all season.
And despite an inspired second half from National Player of the Year Trey Burke, neither he nor Michigan could overcome Louisville's depth.
Reserve Luke Hancock scored 16 of his team-high 22 points in the first half to help keep the Cardinals in the game, while starters Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan led the second-half charge as Louisville stormed from behind to claim the title with an 82-76 win before a record crowd of 74,326 Monday night at the Georgia Dome.
Siva scored 14 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes, while Behanan had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the final frame on his way to a double-double (15 points, 12 boards) as the Cardinals secured their third national title to tie Connecticut, Duke and Kansas for fifth on the all-time list.
"You know a lot of times when you get to the Final Four, you get to a championship (game), the game's not always pretty," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who won his second national title as a coach the day he received his jersey for being named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. "This was a great college basketball game."
And it might not have been possible without the contributions in the first half of Hancock, who scored well over his 7.7 points per game average to become the first non-starter to be named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player dating back to 1939, and help Louisville (35-5) erase as much as a 12-point Michigan (31-8) lead in the first half.
The Wolverines had an unsung hero of their own in Spike Albrecht.
The 5-foot-11 freshman entered the game in place of Burke, who finished with a game-high 24 points, early in the half and scored 17 points in the opening frame.
His biggest contributions came after Burke left the game again after picking up his second personal foul with the Michigan lead at just 20-17 and 11:09 left in the opening frame.
Albrecht scored eight points, including a layup with 3:56 left before the break, to spark a 12-4 spurt that gave the Wolverines their biggest lead of the half at 33-21.
"Trey, with two fouls — Coach Beilein doesn't play guys with two fouls in the first half, so i knew I was in for the rest of the half," Albrecht said. "I was just, fortunately, hitting shots. Teammates were finding me. I mean, that's about it."
The 6-6 junior guard hit a pair of free throws with 3:33 to stop the run and then scored from the floor on Louisville's next four possessions, all from behind the 3-point arc, to almost single-handedly lead a 16-3 Cardinals run.
And when Montrez Harrell finished the run with a resounding alley-oop dunk off a lob from Peyton Siva with 22 seconds left in the half, Louisville had its first lead of the game at 37-36.
"I was just trying to play off Russ (Smith) and Peyton," said Hancock, who posted the most points in a tournament game by a reserve player in 49 years. "They're so good at getting you open shots. … I just try to play with them. They're the guys that are usually scoring all the points. If I can step in and hit an open shot or just try to help out, I do."
Glenn Robinson III managed to get to the line with two seconds left and hit both free throws to help Michigan regain the lead at 38-37 heading into intermission, something the Wolverines felt very good about considering the limited contribution Burke was able to make in just six minutes of play.
"Yeah, I mean, we were rolling there in the first half, but Louisville kind of went on a good run," Albrecht said. "(But) we're still up one. The Player of the Year played (six) minutes. I felt going in to the second half really good."
But so did Louisville, which clearly had momentum, even after Michigan took as much as a 46-42 lead after a Mitch McGary jumper 3:01 into the second half.
And Behanan and Siva combined for all seven Louisville points during a 10-1 run that vaulted the Cardinals back into the lead for good at 52-47 following a Smith 3-pointer with 13:05 to play.
Still, Burke, who scored 17 second-half points, wasn't about to let Michigan quit.
The 6-0 sophomore hit a 3-pointer that pulled the Wolverines as close as 54-52 with 12:08 remaining, and then added a three-point play to once again cut the Louisville lead to two points at 63-61 following his his free throw with 7:57 left.
"We fought for 40 minutes," Burke said. "There was never a point in time that we gave up. Louisville was just a really solid team at the end of the game."
But that was as close as Michigan would get, as the Cardinals went on a 13-5 run over the next 4:30.
Hancock and Siva delivered the final knockout punch, with Hanock first hitting a 3-pointer at the end of the run that pushed the lead to double digits at 76-66, and then each hitting two clutch free throws after the Wolverines had pulled as close as four points in the final 29 second to put the game away.
"It feels amazing to get this win," said Siva, who also dished out five assists and had a game-high four steals. "For us to win this championship is truly a blessing from God."