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Louisville, Michigan look to create lasting bond

Monday - 4/8/2013, 4:36pm  ET

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino answers a question during a news conference for their NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2013, in Atlanta. Louisville plays Michigan in the championship game on Monday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- Rick Pitino knows how lasting one more win would be.

It would give everyone a reason to stay connected. It would create a lifetime bond.

To drive that point home, the Louisville coach showed his team the documentary on North Carolina State's improbable title in 1983, the one that left coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking desperately for someone to hug, the one that his players still get together to reminisce about -- on and off camera.

"We weren't Cinderellas like N.C. State," Pitino said. "But I wanted them to understand that because (the Wolfpack) won a championship, for the rest of their lives they will sit around that table. Every year, they will get together -- for the rest of their lives."

Michigan coach John Beilein is surely trying to instill a similar urgency in his young team, which faces the No. 1 seeded Cardinals in the national championship game Monday night.

"It's really an eerie feeling," Beilein said. "This is it. There's two teams playing, and it's us and Louisville."

The Cardinals (34-5) have lived up to their billing as the tournament's top overall seed, blowing through their first four opponents before rallying from a dozen points down in the second half to beat surprising Wichita State 72-68 in the national semifinals.

It's been quite a run for the Louisville athletic program, in general. The women's basketball team will be playing for a national championship Tuesday night, while the football team won a Big East title and stunned Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Even so, the Cardinals still feel a bit overlooked in their own state. The Kentucky Wildcats are the blue bloods of the bluegrass; Louisville is the school that knows it must work a little harder for a little love.

"We're not a who's who like Harvard and Yale in the alumni world," Pitino said Sunday. "We're a blue-collar school that supports each other. One of the coolest places I've ever worked."

Football rules on the Michigan campus -- rightly so, said Tim Hardaway Jr., given that program's long, storied history.

"We still have a ways to go," said Hardaway, the Wolverines' junior guard. "Football has a lot more national championships than we do."

Maybe so, but the Wolverines (31-7) haven't exactly been pushovers on the hardwood.

They won a national title in 1989, beating Seton Hall in overtime. They've lost three other times in the championship. The program is best known, of course, for the Fab Five, that group of five stellar recruits who led Michigan to back-to-back finals appearances in 1992 and '93.

This team is cut from the same mold, with three freshmen starters and two other first-year players who made big contributions in a semifinal victory over Syracuse.

"The Fab Five was a great team. I mean, a really great team," said freshman guard Caris LeVert, who came off the bench to score eight points against the Orange. "They did some great things for our school."

But these guys can do something the Fab Five never did -- win it all.

"Just making it to the Final Four, we are going to hang up a banner in the Crisler Center," said another freshman, Glenn Robinson III. "But we aren't done. Having the chance to hang another one up for a national championship ... is all kind of surreal to us."

Both teams got to this point with crucial assists from the backups.

LeVert and Spike Albrecht -- yep, another freshman -- both hit a pair of 3-pointers in Michigan's semifinal win, points that were desperately needed with player of the year Trey Burke struggling through a brutal night. The sophomore guard went 1-for-8 and finished with seven points, just the second time this season he's been held in single digits.

Burke said he'll gladly cede scoring duties to someone else again Monday if the Cardinals take a similar approach to Syracuse.

"Pretty much every time I got the ball, I had two people in my face," he said. "I tried not to force anything, but I probably forced two or three shots. That 3 I hit (from way out and his only basket of the game) wasn't a good shot. But I try not to force things and just look for different ways to find the open man."

Louisville, inspired by the gruesome injury to Kevin Ware but needing others to step up while he's down, got an even bigger contribution off the bench than Michigan.

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