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12-3-19 by Maria Murphy

Tonight’s matchup between the AP #1 ranked Louisville Cardinals and the #4 Michigan Wolverines had story lines galore.

One of the “best” expected matchups in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.

The second rematch of the 2013 NCAA Championship game where Louisville defeated Michigan. Made even more dramatic from the NCAA mandated vacancy of the title from the Cardinals.

The Wolverines coming off an unexpected huge run in the Battle for Atlantis beating North Carolina and Gonzaga on the way to the championship. Michigan is an extra sexy draw given its new coach, long-time NBA veteran and one of the famed Michigan Fab Five, Juwan Howard.

And the reunion of Louisville graduate student Fresh Kimble and his former coach, Phil Martelli, who was fired from St. Joe’s after 24 years at the helm of that program.

And yet none of these otherwise huge factors was the main highlight of the Louisville hard fought 58-43 win over a confident Michigan team. The brightest star of this night was the tradition of the Louisville men’s basketball program.

Cardinal fans were asked to wear white tonight, and the majority of the sold-out crowd of 21,674 complied. Although this town loves its basketball, the home crowd is notorious for late arrivals into the game. To its credit, the KFC Yum Center was about three-fourth’s full at the tip and the excitement was felt early.

Unfortunately for the fans, both teams initially did its best to temper this excitement. Maybe both teams were getting used to their lofty rankings. Maybe both were a little nervous under the bright lights of this highly anticipated December matchup. Or according to both head coaches, maybe it was the outstanding defense that both teams are proud to play.

Louisville scored the first basket of the game, a mid-range, floating jumper by junior point guard Darius Perry. Michigan’s huge 7’1 center Jon Teske immediately followed with the first Michigan score. But then scoring became much harder to come by. Louisville missed all kinds of baskets it normally makes: wide open threes by senior, sharp-shooter Ryan McMahon, the hook shot that senior center Steven Enoch is now expected to make, and three of four free throw attempts from some usually reliable shooters.

Michigan however was having a tougher time. They struggled to get uncontested shots, and even when they were open, continued to miss. The Wolverines field goal percentage was a measly 20 percent at the half and the team did not even reach double digits until there were more than 15 minutes played. At the half-way mark Louisville led Michigan 28-18.

Back to the Louisville tradition, fans were asked to stay in their seats through halftime for a special presentation. Louisville legends Darrell Griffith and Luke Hancock were escorted to the court for an unveiling of a new banner to hang in the already cluttered rafters. The new banner honors these two, along with “Never-Nervous” Pervis Ellison, the three Most Outstanding Players that have played as Cardinals. Griff addressed the crowd first, and after crediting the fans for making Louisville basketball what it is today, introduced his fellow MOP Hancock as a 2013 National Champion. He added, “If the NCAA won’t recognize, we will”. Hancock, commenting that he got to speak second because “I can jump higher than Griff” showed a lot of emotion from both the struggle of his legal fight to get recognition from the NCAA and the appreciation towards the “greatest basketball school in the entire country”.

The second half started strong for Michigan who cut the Cardinal lead to four. This included a couple questionable calls against Louisville’s pre-season All-American, Jordan Nwora. Outsiders may argue Luke’s opinion on the school being the “greatest” but it would be harder for anyone to argue that it’s fans aren’t the most knowledgeable about the game. Louisville’s long-standing tradition is also bolstered by continually being the top market for viewing televised college basketball games and being a consistent leader in game attendance. Fans used this knowledge to let the referees know exactly how they felt during this stretch about the less-than-preferential treatment of its star.

This seemed to fuel the Cardinals along with its fans. Instead of letting this Wolverine run rattle the experienced Cardinals, Louisville fought through this stretch and went on a run of its own, outscoring its opponents 10-0. Nwora caught his own blocked shot by Michigan’s forward Isaiah Livers and finished with a made layup. Shortly after, Louisville junior Malik Williams fought hard for an offensive board and tip-in. The Cardinal lead was back to twelve and would not fall under ten points the rest of the night.

The Cardinals’ big men led them tonight in points and on the boards. Nwora led all scorers with 22 and added 12 rebounds. Enoch had his best game of the season, also with a double-double, contributing 13 points and 10 rebounds. Junior forward and hometown favorite, Dwayne Sutton, did not have his best offensive night but added 11 boards.

Michigan was led by its big man as well, Teske, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. No other Wolverine scored in double digits.

After the game the players were asked if the tradition here at Louisville, including the unveiling of the banner, helped motivate the team in this big game. Kimble answered, “Definitely. Seeing those guys before us being appreciated for the job they did here and get us to the point that we are at today… it definitely added some fuel to the fire in terms of us really wanting to go out there and play for a full forty (minutes) and go ahead and get the job done, for not only us but everybody that is a part of this community”.

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