ATLANTA — The best thing that happened to Michigan in the first half of Monday night's NCAA title game was the national player of the year picking up two fouls in the opening nine minutes.
Once Trey Burke went to the bench, the Spike Albrecht show began.
Albrecht, a 5-foot-11 freshman who played sparingly behind Burke this season, erupted for 17 points in the first half of Monday's national title game to lead Michigan to a 38-37 halftime lead. The backup point guard did a little bit of everything, burying all four 3-pointers he attempted, blowing by Louisville defenders for layups and even fueling a fast break with an outlet pass thrown from his backside.
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When Albrecht scored his final basket of the half by using a hesitation dribble to shake Louisville's Tim Henderson for a driving layup, even the Michigan bench couldn't believe what they were seeing. They sprinted off the bench at the timeout and mobbed the unheralded freshman as he jogged off the floor with a huge grin on his face.
Louisville fans were no doubt typing Albrecht's name into their favorite search engines to figure out who was beating them because the freshman is far from a household name even in college hoops circles.
Appalachian State was the only Division I school interested enough in Albrecht to offer the Northfield Mt. Hermon Prep guard a scholarship until Michigan learned of him in March 2012. The Wolverines were desperate for a point guard because they feared Burke might turn pro after his freshman year, so they quickly offered Albrecht a scholarship and promised him a reserve role if Burke remained and the chance to compete for a starting gig if he left.
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Burke's decision to return to school meant Albrecht's primary responsibility this season has been challenging the All-American in practice and spelling him briefly in games, but the freshman has come up big in the NCAA tournament. He had seven points in the Elite Eight against Florida, sank two big threes in the Final Four round against Syracuse and has not missed in nine attempts from behind the arc in the NCAA tournament.
The heroics from Albrecht were enough to propel Michigan to a 12-point lead late in the first half, but Louisville answered thanks to the brilliance of a reserve guard of its own. Luke Hancock sank four threes in two minutes to bring the Cardinals within one at halftime.
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