No. 1 at the Start, and No. 1 at the Finish

ImageATLANTA —Louisville players after defeating Michigan, 82-76, in the N.C.A.A. Championship. Behind the Louisville bench, those in cardinal red remained on their feet in the final minutes, unable to sit down, or feel comfortable, or breathe. Peyton Siva drove and Gorgui Dieng swatted and Luke Hancock launched 3-pointers. Here was Louisville, the top seed in this N.C.A.A. tournament, playing like it until the end. As the national championship unspooled Monday night, Louisville and Michigan put on a show, a production worthy of a stage, with acrobatics and dramatic flair, with stars in their usual roles and understudies in starring ones, with bodies that thudded when they hit the floor after so many collisions at the Georgia Dome. It was Cirque du Soleil for the hoops set. Louisville pulled from many elements, from its press and its pressure, from its outside marksmanship and its balanced scoring. The Cardinals (35-5) came from behind and seized control as the second half wore on. They ultimately triumphed, 82-76, as those fans danced and waved red towels and finally exhaled. With that, a college basketball season as chaotic as any in recent memory ended, at once oddly and predictably, in favor of the favorite. “These are the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” said Rick Pitino, officially a Hall of Famer now, before he revealed that he promised them he would get a tattoo if they triumphed on Monday night. Bring on the ink — perhaps “Louisville 4-eva” across the chest. The players left the bench in the final seconds and stood on the elevated court. At the end of the scrum stood guard Kevin Ware, who broke his leg earlier in this tournament, propped up on crutches, as confetti rained down on the court. Out came the championship hats and T-shirts, the black Louisville banner, the stage for “One Shining Moment.” Siva grabbed the flag and carried it around the court.

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