All in the Cards

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By Brandon Mattingly

It’s the year of the Cardinal. As I sit here with 12.9 seconds left in the national title game and watch Peyton Siva sink a pair of free throws to put away Michigan for Louisville’s third championship in school history, that’s all you can really say. This was UofL’s year and there wasn’t much that was going to stop them.

There’s no university hotter right now, honestly. They just locked up a long coveted men’s basketball title and the women’s team may be right behind them, depending on Tuesday’s result after press time.

Rick Pitino was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday and just last week, son and former Louisville assistant Richard Pitino was hired as Tubby Smith’s successor in Minnesota. Not to mention the No. 9 ranked Cardinal baseball team just finished off a sweep of Cincinnati over the weekend.

Things are going well for Louisville you might say.

But this is Kentucky, and it begins and ends with basketball. The Commonwealth has definitely been on top of the basketball world the last two years and it’s Louisville’s turn to be recognized for staying the course in a season and a tournament where it appeared anything could happen.

This wasn’t supposed to be the tournament where the favorite wins. There wasn’t supposed to be a favorite. Still, the No. 1 overall seed Cards rolled their way through the bracket and proved that they were without question the team to beat in 2013.

Louisville played well throughout the tournament, but the Monday night was without question their most impressive performance in the run. They could have packed it in after falling behind by double digits in the first half and Michigan looked like an all-star team, but instead they just kept doing what they’ve done all season. They pressured the Wolverines into making mistakes and taking bad shots and all of a sudden the fast breaks and the open threes were there for the taking.

Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock was obviously a huge factor, but the two players who most represented how far Louisville has come were Peyton Siva and Chane Behanon.

Siva’s been known to be out of control at times and make mental mistakes at the most inopportune times, but those miscues were at a minimum throughout the tournament and he made some of the biggest momentum-turning plays in the championship game victory. Behanon played the toughest game I’ve personally seen him play and he was the motor that powered them on a big run in the second half.

Their play perfectly represented what Louisville was; a mature, hard-nosed team that no matter what, was going to get in your face for 40 minutes.

A team with the depth, defensive pressure and experience that Louisville brought to the table was a dangerous formula that overwhelmed their opponents much of the way. If nothing else, the past two seasons have shown there are very different ways to go about building a championship team and two of the people who know how to do that as well as anyone right now are in the Commonwealth.

I’ve long maintained that Kentucky-Louisville is a better rivalry than UNC-Duke, simply because the fans care so much in this state, but now there’s plenty of evidence on the court backing that up once again.

I know UK fans were torn in the final game. Many actually gave in, whether from being moved by the injury to Kevin Ware in the Elite 8 or simply state pride, and pulled for the Cards to get the win on Monday, while others had already cheered for Duke in the Elite 8 and there was no looking back.

I wouldn’t have minded to see a Michigan win. They’re an extremely fun team to watch and they put on a show all the way through to the title game. The game delivered on excitement and then some. Whether you’re a fan of Louisville or Michigan or even a rival like Kentucky, you had to be entertained in one of the most fun championship games in a long time.

My Cats had their year in 2012 and have plenty of hype heading into 2013-14, but right now, it’s all about Louisville. But that’s OK, if we’re going to keep saying the Bluegrass boasts the best rivalry in college basketball, the other guy’s got to win it sometimes.