“2013 National Champions”. Those are words that will forever follow when the University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Team is mentioned. These guys made history last night. This Louisville Cardinals team finally crossed the finish line in the marathon that began in last season’s Big East Tournament. From winning the 2012 Big East Tournament as a 7 seed (after finishing 10-8 in conference play), to being ranked #2 preseason, to winning another Big East Title (both regular season and conference tournament), to finally winning the big one. The one they failed to accomplish last year. The one Coach Pitino hasn’t won since 1996 with his current team’s arch rival. The one that the Ville and Card Nation has been awaiting for 27 years—-the national title.
As a young Cards fan, I can’t even imagine how some of the older fans who were around in 1980 and/or 1986 feel. I mean, to have waited this long for a national title seems unbearable. The agony they’ve had to toil through is unimaginable. I want to crawl up in a hole and die almost every time Louisville loses, let alone sit through season after season without a championship. That’s why Louisville fans are the greatest in the world. We don’t EXPECT our team to win season after season and throw them to the dogs when they may happen to have a 10+ loss year. We move on and look toward the future. The future is always bright and shining in the distance. I can only imagine that those words have been uttered by every Louisville fan from 1986 on.
Good things come from winning championships. First off, you garner respect like never before. That was just a great Michigan team and if they can keep a few of their INCREDIBLY talented players, they’ll be lethal in years to come. Never before have I seen a team that can shoot as well and as distanced as they do. Just an absolute treat. The game itself was the best title game in years. I say “title game” and you conjure up images of the abysmal UConn-Butler game in 2011 or the 2012 KU-UK final that was in itself a foregone conclusion. Last night’s game was not the case. Although, I will say that it did look to be getting out of hand early since Spike Albrecht COULD NOT miss. Eventually, Louisville was able to pull back into it on the back of Luke Hancock (as has been accustomed to since the Wichita State game). From that first of three three-pointers he hit in a row, fans all across the country were in for a magical game where it seemed that neither team could pull away from the other. In the end, Peyton Siva showed up to the party and scored 18 points in his last game in a Cardinals uniform in order to win the national title; the absolute greatest way to end a college career. Oh, and let’s not forget that Luke Hancock is the Final Four M.O.P. Amazing how he can go from the player that Louisville fans can’t stand to the hero of this team. Unreal.
At the end of the night, your, mine, and our Louisville Cardinals stood atop the college basketball world. For all Louisville fans though, this moment was bittersweet. Here we are watching our team cut down the nets, all while knowing that this special team (we all knew it from the first minute they took the court this season against Manhattan) would never play again together. After last night, the Ville will no longer have Peyton Siva, a Senior who has spent his life with and dedicated said life to the Louisville Cardinals; Russ Smith, a Junior guard who may be sometimes aggravating with his shot-taking, but is gifted nonetheless; and more than likely Gorgui Dieng, a Junior from Senegal who has transformed into a defensive necessity and skilled post presence. They will all be missed.
But isn’t that the beauty of college basketball and college sports in general? While the players that have been with us for years move on, more exceptional players will take their places. You can’t replace them, but you can certainly live up to the same status and expectations for success that they were held to and ultimately accomplished. No matter where these players go or how their paths have changed, they’ll always be a part of this team–this home. We are Louisville. Go Cards.
Final stats courtesy of statsheet.com: