ATLANTA (AP) — Spike Albrecht shined while Trey Burke sat.
After all that, Michigan and Louisville were still pretty much even. Then the Wolverines couldn't stop the Cardinals in the second half.
With Burke on the bench in early foul trouble, the seldom-used Albrecht scored 17 points in the first half, and the Wolverines led by 12 in Monday night's national title game. But that lead was only one at halftime, and the Cardinals went on to win 82-76.
Albrecht and Burke both played plenty in the second half, but Michigan couldn't prevent Louisville from converting around the basket. Albrecht went scoreless after halftime, leaving Burke — the national player of the year — to try to rally Michigan. He did his best, finishing with 24 points in what might have been his final college game, but it wasn't enough.
"Louisville was the better team today, and they're deserving of the win," Burke said. "We fought all the way, for 40 minutes — there was never a point in time we gave up. Louisville was just a really solid team at the end of the game. ... They took care of the ball, they hit foul shots, and they were the better team."
In the end, Michigan simply couldn't prevent Louisville from scoring. The Wolverines shot 52 percent from the field and 8 of 18 from 3-point range, but when they fell behind late, they weren't able to string together enough stops for a rally.
Michigan had been vulnerable for much of the season at the defensive end, and Louisville had enough talent and muscle to take advantage. The Cardinals finished with 15 offensive rebounds and each one seemed more devastating than the previous to the Wolverines, still seeking their first NCAA championship since 1989.
Michigan (31-8) trailed by four with about a minute to play, and Caris LeVert appeared to come down with a big defensive rebound for the Wolverines.
But he was ruled out of bounds. After that, Louisville had control.
"I've had a lot of really good teams over the years, and some emotional locker rooms, and that was the most emotional we've ever had," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "The team unity we had, the sacrifice we had from five seniors who did not get to play very much, to these young guys buying into the team concept. We feel bad about it. There are some things we could have done better and get a win, but at the same time, Louisville is a terrific basketball team."
So it was another runner-up finish for Michigan — with the Fab Five in the building, no less. Chris Webber showed up after some pregame drama over his whereabouts, and Jalen Rose and the rest of those former Wolverines were on hand, too.
The Fab Five went to the NCAA title game in 1992 and 1993 but lost both times.
This year's Wolverines looked as though they might surpass those runs by one victory, but Louisville (35-5) was too powerful inside. Michigan freshman big man Mitch McGary, who had come almost out of nowhere to have a terrific tournament, had only six points and six rebounds against Louisville. He was limited to 29 minutes with his own foul trouble.
Albrecht had the time of his life early. With Burke on the bench in foul trouble, the 5-foot-11 backup point guard made all four of his 3-pointers in the first half. Michigan had a 38-37 lead at halftime, thanks to Albrecht's 17 points.
Not bad for a freshman who was averaging 1.8 points per game and whose main job was to relieve some of the ball-handling pressure from Burke.
Albrecht had made all five of his 3-point attempts in the NCAA tournament coming into Monday night's game, and he was 4 for 4 from beyond the arc at the break. He finally missed one from long distance in the second half.
"I was fortunately hitting shots, teammates were finding me," Albrecht said. "A year ago, I didn't have anyone looking at me, and (Beilein) took a chance on me. ... When he recruited me, he said we're here to win championships, so that's what we expected."
After his second 3-pointer gave Michigan a 17-11 lead, Albrecht was hooting and hollering a bit when he came back downcourt.
Burke picked up his second foul with 11:09 left in the first half and played only 6 minutes before the break.
"If a guy has two fouls, they're going to attack him and attack him, and he's just going to give up baskets," Beilein said. "We're up by one at half, and the AP player of the year was not in, so we felt really good at halftime."
Albrecht gave his team a lift. At one point, he went to the floor for a loose ball and somehow threw it some 20 feet ahead to a teammate. The transition chance led to a 3-pointer by Nik Stauskas.
When Albrecht drew a foul with 8:13 to go in the half, Burke was clapping on the bench with a bemused smile on his face, as if he couldn't believe this performance, either.
When Louisville called a timeout to regroup, Burke ran quickly over to his backup and gave Albrecht a chest bump while the Wolverines returned to their bench.
Albrecht's previous season high was seven points. His season high for minutes was 15 — until he played 16 in the first half Monday.
Since at least 1997, only one other player has set a career high in scoring in the NCAA title game, according to STATS. That was Florida's Udonis Haslem in 2000 in a loss to Michigan State.
Once Louisville found a comfort zone offensively, the Wolverines needed more than just Albrecht's shooting.
Burke, who considered going to the NBA last year but returned for his sophomore season, drove relentlessly to the basket late in the second half, hitting the floor hard on a couple of occasions. Unlike against Kansas in the regional semifinals — when Burke's long 3-pointer forced overtime — Michigan couldn't come back.