ATLANTA (AP) — Start studying, Louisville. Instead of an all-Big East final against a familiar opponent, the top-seeded Cardinals will play Michigan for the national championship Monday night. It will be the first game between the teams since 1978.
Louisville (34-5) had to overcome its biggest scare of the tournament to reach its first championship since 1986, when it won its second title. Down 12 in the second half, the Cardinals rallied to beat ninth-seeded Wichita State 72-68.
Fourth-seeded Michigan (31-7) then held off Syracuse 61-56, spoiling what could have been a grand finale for the Big East in its final season before Louisville and the Orange leave for the ACC.
Jim Boeheim sat on a stool most of the night, hand propped against his chin, looking more like a man proctoring a math exam than one coaching a basketball game.
Not much a coach can do when his best shooters can’t find the basket.
The Syracuse coach had only two points less than his best player, Michael Carter-Williams, and only five fewer than his most dangerous shooter, James Southerland.
Two players who account for 25 points a game combined for three measly buckets Saturday night. That was easily the difference in a 61-56 semifinal loss to Michigan.
So bad were things for Southerland that, trailing by three with 17.9 seconds to go, Boeheim didn’t go to him _ instead calling a play for Trevor Cooney to drive hard to the basket. He missed and Syracuse never got a chance at the tying shot.
Carter-Williams wasn’t even an option. He fouled out with 1:14 left, giving a big tug on his jersey while walking to the bench after a 1-for-6 night that included two assists and five turnovers.
Another Syracuse scorer, C.J. Fair, carried almost the entire load with 22 points, but with few other options, and without balls going in the basket, Syracuse wasn’t able to set up its suffocating 2-3 zone as efficiently and frequently as it wanted.
That left Boeheim with very little to do other than watch the ugliness unfold.
Carter-Williams, a projected first-round draft pick in a few months, was never a factor. His only basket was a layup late in the first half.
Southerland, who tied a program record with nine 3-pointers earlier this year, finished 2 for 9 and 1 for 5 from long range. His five points came over the last 1:58, including a 3-pointer that pulled Syracuse within a point with 47 seconds left.
He seemed like the perfect man to go to on Syracuse’s last possession, but never saw the ball, as Cooney, a freshman, drove wildly to the hoop and missed.
Syracuse’s first trip to the Final Four since its 2003 championship led by Carmelo Anthony ended with a very un-Melo-like thud.
The Orange (30-10) got beat by the Wolverines, whose man-to-man did much more damage to Syracuse’s offense than Syracuse’s zone did to theirs.
Syracuse shot a respectable 41 percent, but Southerland and Carter-Williams only made 20 percent.
And while most teams need defense to help produce offense, Syracuse is one of those rare teams that turns the equation on its head.
They need offense to produce defense. Without it, long rebounds turned into easy transition points for Michigan. While holding Trey Burke to seven points, they never found an answer for the Wolverines big man, Mitch McGary (12 points, 10 rebounds, six assists). They allowed 36 points in the first half _ only three fewer than they gave up to Marquette in the regional final _ and fell behind by 11.
Things got better over the second 20 minutes, but it was too big a hole to climb out of.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)