12:46 AM EDT, April 7, 2013
ATLANTA -- Florida Gulf Coast was a carnival cruise while it lasted and Wichita State was a hoot, but there will be nothing "mid" about the majors playing for Monday's national title.
The final call is strictly blue grass vs. blue blood.
Louisville, the top overall No.1 team in the tournament, will play Michigan from the Big Ten, the nation's top overall conference this season.
Everyone else — thanks for participating.
In Saturday's national semifinal games in front of a football-sized Georgia Dome crowd, Louisville held off interloper Wichita State, 72-68, then Michigan survived the vortex that had been Syracuse's zone defense, 61-56.
Louisville will be seeking its first title since 1986, and Michigan hasn't won since 1989. The Wolverines got to the title game in 1992 and '93, but then Chris Webber called a timeout he didn't have.
Both of Saturday's games ended with the losing team down by three with a chance to tie the score.
Only one team, though, got a legitimate chance.
In the thrilling nightcap, Syracuse's Trevor Cooney missed his shot and the game ended with a christening slam dunk by Michigan's Jordan Morgan.
Hail to the Victors Valiant!
Wichita State, unfortunately, was derailed not by a player, but by a rule.
Down by three points, Shockers freshman Ron Baker had the rebound in hand and a chance to tie the score with six seconds left.
He was then tied up by Louisville's Luke Hancock and felled by one of the dumbest rules in sports — the alternate possession on a held ball.
It was a bang-bang play, one the officials might let go for another second.
Instead, Louisville got possession on the alternate arrow.
Wichita State had to quickly foul again and Russ Smith, with five clock ticks left, made one of two free-throw attempts to clinch the game.
Are you kidding me?
Not only did James Naismith's original rules of basketball include the jump ball, it called for a jump after every made basket.
The alternate rule was implemented because officials couldn't toss the ball properly.
My advice: Send the refs to "jump ball" camp.
Saturday's call, even if it was correct, was like popping a little kid's birthday balloon.
Louisville might have won anyway, which is fine. The Cardinals deserved to win after climbing back from a 12-point, second-half deficit.
Something so important, such as a trip to the national title game, should not be decided by something so arbitrary.
Wichita State's dream season ended with a thud.
It was a tough game to choose sides.
Wichita State junior Cleanthony Early had the game of his life with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
The No. 9-seeded team from the Missouri Valley Conference had made its point, defeating No.1 and No.2 to win the West.
"Not only do they belong," Coach Gregg Marshall said of his team, "they can play with the best."
Louisville was "just" the best team in the tournament until last week's injury to guard Kevin Ware changed the drama dynamic. Ware's horrific leg break against Duke last Sunday shocked everyone who saw it and then galvanized his teammates.
Ware sat courtside in a wheelchair, wearing his No.5 jersey.
For most of the game, though, Louisville played like it was the double-digit underdog.
"I was mad the entire game," Ware said afterward.
At one point, he hobbled his way onto the court to chew his teammates out.
Louisville trainer Fred Hina had to chase Ware back to his seat.
Suddenly, with the game at the brink of slipping away, Louisville kicked it into another gear.
The Cardinals' frenetic pressure defense finally paid dividends.
Wichita State had only four turnovers until seven minutes left in the game. The Shockers went 26 minutes without a flub-up and then suddenly turned it over five times in seven possessions.
For Louisville, it was vintage discombobulation.
"Down the stretch we were just loose with the ball," Wichita State guard Malcolm Armstead said.
The Shockers' 12-point lead was gone in a blink.
Tim Henderson, the guard asked to pick up the bulk of Ware's minutes, made consecutive three-pointers to cut the lead in half.
Henderson had made only four three-pointers all season before Saturday's game.
Henderson provided the left jab off the bench while Hancock delivered the knockout blow. The junior transfer from George Mason scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half.
He made a huge three-pointer with 6:30 left to give Louisville the lead at 56-55 and another three with 2:06 left to put the Cardinals up by five.
Louisville picked the right night to get 34 bench points because two of its five starters did not score and the other two combined for 17. Guard Peyton Silva made one of nine shots. Smith, with 21, was the only starter to make his wake-up call.
"We had to win this game with our second unit," Pitino said.
It was a good weekend for Pitino. A horse he has a stake in, Goldencents, won Saturday's Santa Anita Derby. It's also expected Pitino will be elected Monday to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Pitino can make it a triple crown with a win Monday night.
Don't bet against him … or his horse.
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