One of the greatest NCAA championship games you could ever hope to see was moving into crunch time when it almost seemed to develop into a battle of point guards. Louisville’s Peyton Siva scored six straight Cardinals points, and Michigan’s Trey Burke responded with a three-point play and then made one of two foul shots after crashing to the floor on a drive.
Moments later, the 6-foot Siva went from delivering alley-oop passes to receiving one from teammate Luke Hancock for a surprising dunk. Burke instantly responded with a carbon-copy dunk at the other end off an alley-oop to cut Michigan’s deficit to three points.
Siva’s turn now. He got out on the fast break and soared toward the rim for another dunk when Burke came from behind, leaped even higher and appeared to make a solid block that sent Siva crashing down. The whistle blew. Foul on Burke. Siva made two foul shots to begin a 9-2 burst for a 10-point lead that put victory just beyond reach of the Wolverines on the way to an 82-76 loss to the Cardinals Monday night in the Georgia Dome.
Burke described that call as the “turning point” at the end. “I saw he had the ball in open court,” Burke said. “I tried to time it up. I knew he was going to try to dunk. I guess the ref thought it was a foul. I thought I had all ball and timed it up pretty good. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.
“I think it was a turning point. It could have been momentum. If it was a no-call, we could have gotten possession. We can’t go back on that now. It was a foul. Louisville deserved it.”
The Cardinals’ lead was back to five, and after a Burke miss, it went to seven and eventually to 10 at 76-66. The Wolverines never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
The morning of the game, Burke accepted the Bob Cousy award as the best point guard for 2013 with Siva sitting in the audience. And the Michigan star proved his worthiness with 24 points in 26 minutes after playing only six minutes of the first half because of foul trouble.
But Siva was brilliant, too. He had 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Just before time ran out, the Louisville senior made sure to give Burke a hug and congratulate him on a great game.
“We fought for 40 minutes,” Burke said. “There was never a point in time that we gave up. Louisville was just a really solid team at the end of the game. They took care of the ball, and they hit foul shots. They were the better team today.”
Inevitably, after such a superb season, there’s a strong chance Burke will file for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. But that’s not a question he was prepared to answer in the immediate aftermath of such a tough loss.
“I’m not thinking about it right now,” Burke said. “This game hurts so much. That’s something I’ll talk over with my coaching staff and my parents in the next couple of weeks. I’ll make a decision from there.
Michigan coach John Beilein said his postgame locker room was awash in emotion of a group of guys who professed their love for each other. “I hope when we get on that plane Tuesday, there’s some smiles on faces,” Beilein said. “The sun is going to come up. They’re terrific young people. We’re the luckiest coaching staff in the world to be able to coach these guys.”