No. 1 seed Louisville and fourth-seed Michigan will meet tomorrow night to determine the national men’s college basketball championship.
Louisville rallied from 12 points down in the second half to defeat Wichita State University 72-68 before Michigan knocked off Syracuse 61-56 to reach the National Collegiate Athletic Association title game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Louisville will make its first appearance in the championship since 1986, while Michigan will return for the first time since the school lost in the 1993 title game to North Carolina. The Cardinals also won the championship in 1980 while the Wolverines, the first No. 4 seed to play in the title game since Arizona in 1997, will be seeking a second national title to go with its 1989 championship.
“Louisville is going to be a difficult game,” Michigan coach John Beilein said in a press conference. “(Rick Pitino) is a brilliant coach with great schemes. It’s going to be very difficult. But I need to study him a little bit more before I know exactly what to expect.”
Michigan has lost both games it has played against Louisville by a total of four points. The two schools haven’t played each other since meeting in a pair of home-and-home games in the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.
Louisville is given a 64 percent chance to win the national championship, according to R.J. Bell of Pregame.com in Las Vegas. A $200 bet on the Cardinals would earn $100 and a $100 wager on Michigan wins $170. Louisville is a four-point favorite to win at the Hilton and the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas.
The Wolverines held a 36-25 lead at halftime and never trailed in the second half as junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. led all Michigan scorers with 13 points. The Wolverines, who defeated Florida and Kansas to reach the semifinal game, had three players scoring at least 10 points, including freshman forward Mitch McGary, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
After Syracuse’s James Sutherland hit a three-pointer with 42 seconds remaining to pull the Orange within one point of the lead, Michigan pulled away, scoring the game’s final five points. Junior forward Jordan Morgan sealed the victory with a two-handed dunk with two seconds remaining.
Syracuse junior forward C.J. Fair finished the game with 22 points as senior guard Brandon Triche added 11 points.
The loss marked the first defeat in four semifinal game appearances for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and the first time Michigan’s Beilein has beaten Boeheim in 10 meetings.
In last night’s first game, Wichita State jumped out to an 8-0 lead five minutes into the game and held a 47-35 lead with 13 minutes, 40 seconds left in the second half. Louisville chipped away at the advantage until Luke Hancock hit a 3-pointer to give the Cardinals the lead at 56-55. Hancock then hit another 3-pointer with two minutes left to build Louisville its biggest lead of the day at 65-60.
“I kept telling the guys it’s about defense,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino during a televised interview. “The tempo was not ours. We beat a great team tonight.”
Pitino not only won a trip to the NCAA final, his thoroughbred, Goldencents, came in first in the Santa Anita Derby to lock up a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Russ Smith scored 21 points and Hancock came off the bench to add 20, including six in the final two minutes, for the Cardinals (34-5), who had won 15 straight games.
“We just had to come out and execute in the offense in the second half,” Hancock said. “Wichita State is an unbelievable team.”
Cleanthony Early had 24 points and 10 rebounds and Carl Hall scored 13 for the Shockers (30-9), who had knocked out No. 1 Gonzaga and second-seeded Ohio State to reach its first Final Four since 1965.