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 led 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.
Any pain he was feeling from that gruesome injury in the regional final, when he landed awkwardly, snapped his leg and was left writhing on the floor with the bone sticking through the skin, was long gone as he hobbled gingerly onto the court with the aid of crutches, backing in a sea of confetti and streamers.
“These are my brothers,” Ware said. “They got the job done. I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”
Peyton 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.
The first half might’ve been the most entertaining 20 minutes of the entire 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.