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Bastrop Daily Enterprise - Bastrop, LA
  • NCAA Final Four: Michigan tops Syracuse, will play for title

  • ATLANTA — Don't call these guys the Fab Five. Michigan's latest group of young stars is determined to leave its own legacy. Attacking Syracuse's suffocating zone defense in the first half with 3-pointers, crisp passing and a fearless attitude, the Wolverines advanced to the national championship game with a 61-56 victory over the Orange in the Final Four on Saturday night.
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  • ATLANTA — Don't call these guys the Fab Five.
    Michigan's latest group of young stars is determined to leave its own legacy.
    Attacking Syracuse's suffocating zone defense in the first half with 3-pointers, crisp passing and a fearless attitude, the Wolverines advanced to the national championship game with a 61-56 victory over the Orange in the Final Four on Saturday night.
    Michigan (31-7) will be going for its first national title since 1989 when it faces Louisville on Monday at the Georgia Dome. Syracuse (30-10) failed to complete an all-Big East final in the fabled league's last season before breaking up.
    Louisville was established as a 4½-point title game favorite.
    Don't expect that to bother the brash young Wolverines a bit.
    Even though the Wolverines got sloppy in the second half they hung on at the end, winning despite a tough night for Associated Press player of the year Trey Burke. He scored only seven points.
    Trailing 58-56, the Orange had a chance to force overtime. But Brandon Triche was called for a foul when Jordan Morgan stepped in to take the charge with 19.2 seconds left.
    "Jordan is our best charge-taker," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He stood in there and took a good one."
    After Jon Horford made only one of two free throws, Syracuse called timeout and set up a play. Curiously, the Orange didn't attempt a tying 3-pointer. Instead, Trevor Cooney drove the lane looking to put up an easier shot. But the ball was swatted away, Michigan saved it from going out of bounds and Morgan wound up taking a long pass the other way.
    He threw down a thunderous slam with just over a second remaining to cap the triumph.
    Triche blamed himself for driving the ball recklessly into the lane when Syracuse had a chance to tie it.
    "I was just trying to make a play for the team," he said. "I probably should have made a better decision, probably should have pulled up for the jump shot. ... I did see him, but I figured, I was already in the air jumping."
    With Burke struggling (he made only one shot from the field all night), Michigan got an unexpected contribution off the bench from freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht.
    LeVert scored eight points and Albrecht chipped in with six — all of them crucial after the Wolverines went cold in the second half and struggled to put away the Orange. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines with 13 points.
    Page 2 of 3 - "We had a lot of guys in there," Beilein said. "You never know who the outlier is, you never know who's going to come in and get that done. We've been a team all year. It was great."
    Of course, there's nothing unusual about Michigan getting big performances from first-year players. This team starts three freshmen — Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas — which, of course, rekindles memories of the great Fab Five teams of the early 1990s.
    These kids want nothing to do with the comparisons, saying they haven't done nearly enough to be mentioned in the same breath with a team that changed the face of college basketball.
    Louisville 72, Wichita State 68
    Louisville's ugliest win was its biggest one yet.
    Luke Hancock came off the bench to score 20 points, walk-on Tim Henderson sparked a second-half rally with a pair of monster 3s and Louisville advanced to the NCAA title game Saturday night, escaping with a 72-68 victory over Wichita State.
    "I just kept telling the guys ... 'We're going to make a run. It's about defense,'" coach Rick Pitino said. "Give them their credit, but the bench won the game for us tonight."
    And now the Cardinals (34-5) will try and win it all for their emotional leader on the bench, injured Kevin Ware. As the final buzzer sounded, Ware stood up, grinning as he thrust his arms above his head.
    Louisville will play the winner of Syracuse-Michigan for the national title Monday night. It is the Cardinals' first trip to the title game since they won it all in 1986.
    Russ Smith led the Cardinals with 21 points, and Chane Behanan added 10.
    Cleanthony Early had 24 for the ninth-seeded Shockers (30-9), who nearly pulled off their biggest upset of all. Wichita State had knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga and Ohio State on its way to its first Final Four since 1965, and it had a 12-point lead on the Cardinals with 13:35 to play. It was the largest deficit all tournament for the Cardinals, who seemed out of sorts after an emotional week following Ware's gruesome injury.
    But Louisville had come back to win five games after trailing by nine points or more already this year, including rallying from a 16-point deficit in the title game at the Big East tournament.
    This one trumped them all.
    "They were unbelievable the entire team with their defensive intensity," Hancock said. "We had to just come out and execute on offense, especially in the second half we had to pick it."
    Henderson, the walk-on who was forced into increased playing time because of Ware's injury, made back-to-back 3s to spark a 21-8 run. While Hancock and Behanan were knocking down shots, Smith and Peyton Siva were turning up the heat on the Shockers.
    Page 3 of 3 - After going more than 26 minutes without a turnover, Siva darted in to strip the ball away from Carl Hall. He fed Hancock, who drilled a 3 that gave Louisville a 56-55 lead, its first since the end of the first half.
    "Down the stretch, we were just loose with the ball, we just didn't take care of it, pretty much," Wichita State's Malcolm Armstead said. "I can't give you an explanation — it just happened."
    Early would give the Shockers one more lead, converting a three-point play. But Siva scored and then Smith stole the ball and took it in for an easy layup that gave Louisville a 60-58 lead with 4:47 left. Louisville fans erupted, and even Ware was on his feet, throwing up his arms and clapping. The Cardinals extended the lead to 65-60 on a tip-in of a Smith miss and another 3 by Hancock.
    Wichita State had one last chance, pulling within 68-66 on Early's tip in with 22 seconds left. But the Shockers were forced to foul, and Smith and Hancock made their free throws to seal the victory.
    "It's just a mix of emotions, of feelings. It hurts to have to lose and be the end of the season," Early said. "But these guys fought to the end, and we had a great season and keep our heads high and know the grind doesn't stop."
    The Cardinals were the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, and they steamrolled their way through their first four games, winning by an average of almost 22 points. They limited opponents to 59 points and 42 percent shooting while harassing them into almost 18 turnovers a game, setting an NCAA tourney record with 20 steals against North Carolina A&T.
    The presence of Ware was supposed to provide even more motivation for Louisville, which already had some unfinished business after losing to Kentucky in last year's Final Four. Ware's tibia snapped and broke through the skin during last weekend's Midwest Regional final. Yet he's here in Atlanta, his hometown, and was sitting on a chair at the end of the Louisville bench, his right leg propped up on towels.
    The Cardinals have modified their warm-up T-shirts in Ware's honor — they now read "Ri5e to the Occasion," with Ware's No. 5 on the back — and every one of the starters went to shake his hand after being introduced.
    But whether it was the emotional roller-coaster of the last week, the expectations or just Wichita State, the Cardinals seemed out of sorts much of the night.
    Wichita State may not have the names or pedigree of a Louisville, Syracuse or Michigan. But what the Shockers lacked in star power they more than made up for in hustle and heart. This, after all, was a team with one player (Carl Hall) who salvaged his career after working in a light bulb factory and two more (Ron Baker and Malcolm Armstead) who paid their own ways in their first years.

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