Atlanta — After the Big East championship, Louisville players never held a pair of scissors. After earning the right to play in the Final Four, they breezed past a ladder positioned under the nets.
But Monday night, their work was done.
At the Georgia Dome on Monday night, the scoreboard read: Louisville 82, Michigan 76.
Wearing “Cut the Net” T-shirts, the Cardinals allowed themselves to reach to the rim and snip at the net in an NCAA Tournament tradition that is as concrete a sign of victory as the scoreboard.
Except for one player.
The hoop came down for Kevin Ware, the inspirational leader who was sidelined after breaking his leg gruesomely in the Elite Eight. He took the last snips of the net and wore them around his neck.
In one of the most memorable, up-tempo and closely contested title games in recent history, Louisville capped a brilliant tournament run.
The Cardinals carried the burden of the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed expertly en route to the program’s first title since 1986. They beat fourth-seeded Michigan in the NCAA championship game, erasing a 12-point deficit for a second straight game, this one featuring seven lead changes.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino added to his legacy by becoming the only coach to win titles at two programs, adding a ring to the one he won in 1996 at Kentucky.
He’ll have something to remember it by, saying he will make good on his promise to his players to get a tattoo if they won the championship.
“We beat a great basketball team probably because I have the toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” he said.
With the team’s stars struggling, Luke Hancock showed up again, helping bring the Cardinals back from 12 points down with four-straight 3-pointers near the end of the first half.
Hancock, a George Mason transfer whose ill father watched the game in person, made all five of his 3-point attempts and bested his 20-point Final Four outing with 22 in the championship game.
The crowd howled “Luuuuke” as his image was shown on screens at the dome as he celebrated on stage with his teammates and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Point guard Peyton Siva may have been overshadowed by teammate Hancock and the brilliant first half of Michigan’s Spike Albrecht, but he was a master after halftime, scoring 14 of his 18 points.
Forward Chane Behanan scored 11 of his 15 points and pulled down 11 of his 12 rebounds after halftime.
Ware beamed as he walked on the court on crutches.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “I’ve never been that type of guy. These are my brothers. They got the job done. I’m so proud of them. So proud of them.”
The first half belonged to Albrecht, Michigan’s freshman guard from Crown Point, Ind., who made 6 of 7 shots and all four 3-point attempts to lead the Wolverines with 17 points while national player of the year Trey Burke sat on the bench with two early fouls.
Albrecht was held scoreless after halftime. Burke finished with a game-high 24 points.
Monday’s game made for a sparkling finale to a good-life week for Pitino.
He was named a Hall of Fame inductee earlier in the morning. His son Richard was hired to coach Minnesota earlier in the week and the horse he co-owns won the Santa Anita Derby.
The game ended a stellar tournament run for Michigan, which finished the Big Ten season in fifth place.
Loaded with young talent, the Wolverines were back in the championship game for the first time since the Fab Five lost in 1993.