4/9/2013 6:00:00 AM It's in the Cards: Louisville wins breakneck game over Michigan for first NCAA title since 1986; Cubs drop home opener; Diggins receives praise despite ND loss
NCAA Championship: Louisville 82, Michigan 76
ATLANTA (AP) - What a week for Rick Pitino! He's elected to the Hall of Fame. His horse is headed to the Kentucky Derby. His son gets a prominent head coaching job.
Then he caps it off with what he wanted most.
Another national championship.
For that, he can thank 13 of the grittiest guys he's ever coached.
Luke Hancock produced another huge game off the bench, scoring 22 points, and Pitino became the first coach to win national titles at two schools when Louisville rallied from another 12-point deficit to beat Michigan 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
"This team is one of the most together, toughest and hard-nosed teams," the coach said. "Being down never bothers us. They just come back."
More like relentless to the very end.
They're not stopping now, either. The players intend to hold Pitino to a promise he made: If they won a national title, he'd get a tattoo.
Better leave a lot of space, coach, if you want to make this a tribute to the team.
"I have a couple of ideas," said Hancock, who became the first sub in tournament history to be designated as most outstanding player. "He doesn't know what he's getting into."
"Our biggest motivation," Peyton Siva added, "was to get coach a tattoo."
That's about the only thing that didn't exactly turn out in Petino's favor. Earlier Monday, he was introduced as a member of the latest Hall of Fame class. On Saturday, his horse won the Santa Anita Derby to set up a run for the roses. And last week his son got the coaching job at Minnesota.
The Cardinals (35-5) lived up to their billing as the top overall seed in the tournament, though they sure had to work for it.
Louisville trailed Wichita State by a dozen in the second half before rallying for a 72-68 victory. This time, they fell behind by 12 in the first half, then unleashed a stunning spurt led by Hancock that wiped out the entire deficit before the break.
"I had the 13 toughest guys I've ever coached," Pitino said. "I'm just amazed they could accomplish everything we put out there."
No one was tougher than Hancock, who matched his season high after a 20-point effort in the semifinal victory over Wichita State. This time, he came off the bench to hit four straight 3-pointers in the first half after Michigan got a boost from an even more unlikely player.
Freshman Spike Albrecht made four straight from beyond the arc, too, blowing by his career high before the break with 17 points. Coming in, Albrecht was averaging 1.8 points a game and had not scored more than seven all season.
Albrecht didn't do much in the second half, but Hancock finished what he started for Louisville. He made it 5-for-5 when he hit his final 3 from the corner with 3:20 remaining to give the Cardinals their biggest lead, 76-66. Michigan wouldn't go away, but Hancock wrapped it up by making two free throws with 29 seconds left.
While Pitino shrugged off any attempt to make this about him, there was no doubt the Cardinals wanted to win a national title for someone else - injured guard Kevin Ware.
Watching again from his seat at the end of the Louisville bench, his injured 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 gruesome injury during the regional final will forever be linked to this tournament. 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.
Louisville again came out wearing Ware's No. 5 on the back of their warmup jerseys; the front said, "Ri5e to the Occasion." When the title belonged to the Cardinals, Ware put on a championship cap and got a big hug from Pitino. Then, they lowered the basket so the injured player could cut a strand out of the net.
This one belonged to him as much as anyone on the court.
"These are my brothers," Ware said. "They got the job done. I'm so proud of them, so proud of them."
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."
Louisville has a chance to make it two national titles in 24 hours.
The surprising women's team faces Connecticut on Tuesday night in the championship game at New Orleans.
Good luck matching this breakneck finale. 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.
"That was honestly, probably back to high school days," Albrecht said, remembering when he's had a similar stretch. "Coach (John) Beilein doesn't play guys with two fouls in the first half, so I knew I was in the rest of the half, and I was fortunately hitting shots. Teammates were finding me. That's about it."
It didn't last. Not against Louisville.
The Cardinals came back one more time.
"We just went into war right there with a great Michigan team," Hancock said. "We needed a rally and we've been doing it for a couple of games straight, being down. 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.
Still, it was quite a run for a fourth-seeded team that knocked off No. 1-seeded Kansas with the greatest comeback of the tournament, rallying from 14 points down in the second half to beat the Jayhawks in the round of the 16.
But they came up against the ultimate comeback team in the final.
"I've had a lot of really good teams over the years, and some emotional locker rooms, and that was the most emotional we've ever had," Beilein said. "The team unity we had, the sacrifice we had from five seniors who did not get to play very much, to these young guys buying into the team concept.
"We feel bad about it. There are some things we could have done better and get a win, but at the same time, Louisville is a terrific basketball team. We have not seen that quickness anywhere."
Louisville had already pulled off a stunning rally in the Big East championship game - down by 16 in the second half, they won by 17 - and another against Wichita State. They surged back again behind their own ace off the bench.
Hancock matched Albrecht from the 3-point stripe. Then, trapping the youngster and knocking the ball away, he set up a fast break that ended with Siva flipping up a lob that Montrezl Harrell slammed through for a dunk, capping a stunning 16-3 run in less than 4 minutes that gave the Cardinals their first lead of the night, 37-36.
Glenn Robinson III made two free throws with two seconds left to give Michigan a 38-37 lead at halftime.
But everyone knew this game was just getting started.
And when it was done, Pitino, Ware and the Cardinals were celebrating in the middle of the mammoth Georgia Dome, assuring the national title will stay in the bluegrass another year.
Last season, it was Kentucky winning it all, the same team that gave Pitino his first title in 1996.
Now, he's got another one - right down the road in Louisville.
Brewers 7, Cubs 4
CHICAGO (AP) - Starlin Castro gave it a good ride with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. The drive might have gone out at the start of the game, but the wind had shifted and it died on the warning track.
That's how Wrigley Field's first game of the season went for the Chicago Cubs.
Edwin Jackson got off to a rough start and the Cubs' final rally was wiped out by the fickle breeze, giving the Milwaukee Brewers a 7-4 victory on Monday.
Chicago scored two runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded when Dave Sappelt struck out. Castro then hit a fly ball deep to right, but the wind held it up and Norichika Aoki hauled it in.
"Yeah, I had a bad feeling when we got things going there," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We had nobody out and with those guys coming up, that wind shift was going to obviously have a factor in the game both ways, and it did."
The wind was blowing out at the start of the game - a rare sight for an April date at the 99-year-old ballpark - and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke thought Castro's ball probably would have went off the wall at that point.
"Things went our way," he said.
Marco Estrada pitched seven effective innings and doubled home a run, helping the Brewers stop a five-game slide. Aoki had three hits and Ryan Braun made a successful return to the lineup.
Jim Henderson picked up his first save of the season in his first opportunity since he replaced John Axford in the closer's role.
"It's just nice to win," Braun said. "We needed to win."
Estrada allowed two runs and five hits while bouncing back from a lackluster season debut against Colorado. The right-hander also drove in Alex Gonzalez with a drive into the gap in right-center during Milwaukee's two-run seventh.
"I just kept telling myself just leave the pitches down, especially the changeup," he said. "As long as I don't leave balls up, I should be OK. Especially because, you know, I'm a bit of a pop-fly pitcher and I knew in this park with that wind it could be trouble."
Welington Castillo belted a two-run homer for Chicago, which has dropped four in a row and five of six. Edwin Jackson was hit hard in his first home game since he signed a $52 million, four-year contract over the winter, surrendering five runs and eight hits in six innings.
Braun, who missed Milwaukee's weekend sweep by Arizona due to spasms on the right side of his neck, went 3 for 4 with two doubles before he was replaced by Logan Schafer in the eighth inning. The 2011 NL MVP has at least one hit in each of his four games this season.
It was Braun's first road game since his name surfaced in records from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America LLC clinic alleged to have provided banned substances to several players. After his name was connected to the clinic, he issued a statement in which he said he used the clinic's operator, Anthony Bosch, as a consultant in appealing a positive drug test that was overturned last year.
Braun was lustily booed by the crowd of 40,083, but the fans hardly seemed to notice he was at the plate in the eighth after they got done jeering struggling reliever Carlos Marmol when he came on to pitch.
"Yeah, I don't think they've ever cheered for me here," Braun said with a grin. "Not too much different than it's ever been in the past."
The day began with a tarp over the infield as showers rolled through the area, but the grey clouds soon gave way to sunshine for an unusually warm opener at the ballpark. Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams each threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and Ernie Banks led the crowd in the singing of the "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch.
As soon as Jenkins and Williams left the field, the Brewers jumped all over Jackson (0-2).
With runners on first and second and two down, Jonathan Lucroy and Gonzalez had consecutive walks to force home a run. Martin Maldonado then delivered a bases-clearing double into the right-field corner, lifting Milwaukee to a 4-0 lead.
The Brewers added another run in the second when Aoki reached on a leadoff double and scored on Braun's one-out double to center.
"I just have to do a better job of executing and executing pitches when I put myself in the position to get out of a jam," Jackson said.
That was more than enough for Estrada (1-0), who struck out six and walked one. He was coming off a no-decision against the Rockies, when he allowed four runs and nine hits in five innings.
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Diggins had 'it factor,' but UConn got the win
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Skylar Diggins needed a moment to compose herself. Her stellar career at Notre Dame had just come to an end.
The hometown star couldn't have asked for much more in her four years playing for the Irish. She just couldn't deliver a national championship.
Diggins and Notre Dame fell short for the first time this season against UConn, losing 83-65 on Sunday night in the Final Four.
"It's been a dream come true to play for my hometown school right in my backyard," she said. "It's an experience I'll never forget."
Because of Diggins, Notre Dame was able to dominate UConn in a way no other team has since the Huskies won their first national championship in 1995. The Irish (35-2) won seven of eight meetings before losing Sunday night, in no small part because of their star with her distinctive white headband.
"She's a champion," coach Muffet McGraw said. "We didn't win it, but what she's done for us has been amazing. She leaves Notre Dame as the most celebrated and decorated player, the best player ever."
The loss ended an incredible season for Notre Dame and left Diggins without a national championship. She had accomplished nearly everything else at the school, including helping her Irish turn around their rivalry against the Huskies.
Diggins said she spoke with Auriemma after the loss.
"Don't let this define my career," she said he told her, and that "I've done more for women's basketball than some people have done who have won four championships."
"He just told me I was a good player," she said. "You respect that coming from such a good coach."
Diggins brought a rock star quality to the Irish, with fans including Lil Wayne and more than 300,000 followers on Twitter by the time her career came to an end. She had the talent to go with it, too, as a two-time All-American.
Auriemma said Diggins has the "it" factor.
"She has an uncanny ability to capture the moment," Auriemma said. "It's one reason she's been so successful she has that mindset that I was worried no one on our team has."
The Irish had won the three meetings this season by one point, two points and in triple overtime. They just couldn't pull off a fourth victory over their rivals.
They had no answer for Breanna Stewart.
The stellar freshman scored a career-high 29 points to go with four blocks and was seemingly everywhere in leading the Huskies back to the national championship game with an 83-65 win over Notre Dame on Sunday night.
The Huskies (34-4) will face Louisville in the title game Tuesday night, and it will be an all-Big East affair after the Cardinals rallied to beat California 64-57 in the other semifinal. UConn will be going for its eighth national championship to match Tennessee for the most in women's basketball history.
"Once you get here you're only going to beat great teams. And the reason Notre Dame has beaten us seven of the last eight times is because they're really, really good," Auriemma said. "For one night, that's what's great about the NCAA tournament, for one night, for just this night, we just needed to be better than them, and we were."
The Huskies built a 10-point halftime lead playing incredible defense and Notre Dame (35-2) could only get within six in the second half as its school record 30-game winning streak came to an end.
The Huskies and Irish have developed the best rivalry in women's basketball over the past few seasons, and this game might have been the final chapter between the two with Notre Dame headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
Two years ago, the Huskies won the first three meetings before Notre Dame shocked them in the national semifinals. Notre Dame had won seven of the previous eight meetings before Sunday night and this one, for once, started slowly. With the teams so familiar with each other, getting easy baskets was virtually impossible. Notre Dame went nearly 7½ minutes without a field goal missing 14 consecutive shots.
While UConn would usually knockout most opponents during a scoreless stretch like that, the Huskies couldn't take advantage against the Irish scoring only four points themselves.
Neither team led by more than four points for the first 16 minutes. But trailing 26-25 with 3:44 left in the half, UConn took over. Bria Hartley, who has struggled all season while recovering from an ankle injury she suffered over the summer, was the spark. The junior guard started the spurt with a 3-pointer and added a nifty pullup moments later to make it 32-26.
After Notre Dame scored to pull within four, Morgan Tuck put back a miss and Stewart hit a 3-pointer. A Kelly Faris layup with 3.9 seconds left capped the burst and made it 39-29 at the break.
"I thought we looked nervous coming out and I don't know why we did," McGraw said. "We've been here before and certainly should have felt differently. We didn't get into a rhythm where we could get comfortable. We got in that giant hole at halftime, that was difference in the game."
Diggins was 0 for 6 from the field in the first half as the Huskies harassed her all over the court. She scored the Irish's first two points on free throws and didn't have another point until getting a steal early in the second half and converting it for the easy layup to make it 42-35. She tried to do everything she could to rally her team. Twice she chased down Hartley on the break to block her shot.
UConn led 50-43 with 12:22 left before Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Stewart hit back-to-back 3s to give the Huskies their biggest lead of the game.
Notre Dame wasn't done, their star freshman Jewell Loyd scoring five points during a 9-2 run to get the Irish within 61-55.
That was as close as they could get as Stewart and UConn scored the next seven points to seal the victory. Stewart was the most heralded freshman coming into the season, but struggled through the middle part of the year. But ever since the Big East tournament she's really been on a roll.
"Every player, especially young players, deal with things differently," Auriemma said. "And I think when the season ended, it just let the air out of the balloon and she said, 'Now I just want to play basketball.' My God, she was amazing tonight."