ATLANTA — Two seconds still remained in Monday night's national title game when the party began.
As a sea of delirious red-clad Louisville fans pumped their fists, exchanged high-fives and raised their arms in victory, the Cardinals players and coaches did the same on the floor in celebration of a victory they had dreamed of since this time last year.
Three hundred seventy-three days after its unexpected Final Four run came crashing to a halt against a superior Kentucky team last March, Louisville experienced the same joy its rival had at the Cardinals' expense. Behind 22 points from Luke Hancock, 18 from Peyton Siva and 15 from Chane Behanan, Louisville edged Michigan 82-76 in a scintillating national title game, delivering the school's third national championship and its first since 1986.
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"We came up short last year, but that drove us this season," Wayne Blackshear said. "All the hard work we went through this summer, the losing streak this season, it's all worth it because of this moment. This feeling right here, winning a national championship, it's indescribable."
If just getting to the Final Four for the first time in seven years made last season a clear-cut success for Louisville, the Cardinals faced greater pressure this March to finish the job. Not only did they return five of their top seven players from last season, they also entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after catching fire in the second half of league play and rolling to the Big East tournament title.
Louisville won't be remembered as a dominant champion in the mold of a 2012 Kentucky or a 2009 North Carolina, but the Cardinals did not collapse under the burden of high expectations. They finished the season on a 16-game win streak after a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame in mid-February, a stretch that culminated with comeback victories over Wichita State and Michigan in Atlanta.
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