National Columnist

Michigan loses, but don't let Spike Albrecht story go unnoticed

ATLANTA -- We'll remember the winner, like we always do. When we think of this 2013 NCAA championship game between Louisville and Michigan, we'll remember Louisville for winning. We'll remember Luke Hancock for one-upping Mike Dunleavy of Duke in the 2001 title game, seeing Dunleavy's trio of 3-pointers in a 45-second span with four on Saturday night in less than two minutes. We'll remember Chane Behanan's double-double in the second half, when he put the Louisville Cardinals on his burly back and carried them home.

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We'll remember Rick Pitino for becoming the first coach in college basketball to win a national title at two different schools, and then for ducking in fright when the fireworks went off, and then for standing back upright with a look of childlike glee. We'll remember Peyton Siva's leadership. We'll remember Russ Smith's struggles.

We'll remember Louisville.

Will we forget Spike Albrecht?

Not me. Not some of you. And not the coaching staff at Appalachian State. A sad story, that one. See, in an alternate universe, Spike Albrecht is playing for Appalachian State and not Michigan. The Mountaineers were all over Albrecht last year, with him coming to see the school and the school all set to come see him, and it was close to happening. Albrecht, who was so lightly recruited as a high school senior in 2011 that he went to a prep school for a year, wasn't heavily recruited as a fifth-year senior, either. He was most likely headed to Appalachian State until Michigan happened to see him on a night he was shooting the ball like, um, he was shooting it Monday night.

As the first half unfolded Monday night, my colleague Jeff Goodman was texting with Appalachian State assistant coach Kellen Sampson. They were discussing Albrecht. Goodman wanted to know how close Appalachian State had come to getting him. Pretty close, sounds like.

This is what Sampson told Goodman in a text:

"This is excruciating to watch."

Sampson attached an "LOL" to that, because he was sort of serious but he was also teasing and, surely, happy for Albrecht.

The game didn't end well for Albrecht or Michigan -- Louisville won 82-76 -- but let's make a deal: Let's not forget Spike Albrecht, OK? What he did in the first half was one of the more remarkable things any of us have ever seen. When it was happening, at 9:40 p.m. in the Eastern time zone, he was trending on Twitter -- and not just trending in the United States. He was trending worldwide.

Spike Albrecht was doing that, because Spike Albrecht was doing this:

Beating Louisville pretty much by himself.

For 11 minutes of the first half, Spike Freaking Albrecht, averaging 1.6 points per game, was the best player on the court in the biggest game of the season. He hit a 3-pointer, then another, then another.

Then another.

Then he took his defender into the lane, attacked the shot-blocking behemoths under the rim and spun a layup over everyone, into the bucket. When his flurry was over, he had 17 of Michigan's 33 points and the Wolverines had a 33-21 lead with 3:51 left in the half and Louisville coach Rick Pitino was calling a timeout because his team couldn't stop Spike Albrecht.

This was Spike Albrecht, people. Spike Albrecht. For 11 minutes he was the best guard in a Michigan uniform -- and another guard in a Michigan uniform, Trey Burke, is the consensus national player of the year. But Burke was on the bench with two fouls, and Michigan coach John Beilein likes to sit players who get two fouls for the rest of the half. So Burke sat. Albrecht took over. Damndest thing you ever saw.

When it was 26-19 and Albrecht already had hit a trio of 3-pointers, the Michigan fans behind me were screaming his name. When Albrecht crossed halfcourt, one of them yelled, "Shoot it!" The guy was being silly, I think, but about 90 seconds later Albrecht did something silly.

He shot a 30-footer.

Made the damn thing, too.

The only thing missing from this was a Spike Albrecht shoulder shrug at Jim Nantz, like the one Michael Jordan gave to Marv Albert as he was hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the 1992 NBA Finals.

But Albrecht cooled off from there. Look, the guy came into the game averaging 1.6 ppg. In 18 Big Ten games he scored 22 points, total. And he had 17 points in 11 minutes of the first half in the NCAA title game? This wasn't going to continue, and it didn't. He didn't score again. He took just two more shots, missed them both, and had two turnovers in the second half.

When it was over, he was miserable. As you'd expect, of course, given that his team had just lost the national title game. But as he sat at the podium meeting the media -- he was one of three Michigan players brought to the interview room, along with future pros Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. -- Albrecht didn't look even a little bit pleased to be there, to have earned his spot on this stage.

Those good feelings will surely come later, but at this moment he wasn't just sad -- he was angry. Half the questions were for Albrecht, but as his teammates were talking he was sitting there, stewing. Albrecht was shaking his head, and he was talking to himself. His lips were moving as he was saying something, something angry, probably something about the two shots he had missed in the second half.

Several times the media asked Albrecht about his 17-point splurge. We asked him in different ways because we weren't getting the answer we expected -- we weren't getting the sense of shock, of awe, from Albrecht -- and he kept talking about "hitting shots," like that's what he does when he gets the chance. The last two times we asked him, he finished his answer by saying, "That's about it."

At 9:40 p.m. in the Eastern time zone on Monday night, Spike Albrecht was trending worldwide on Twitter. That's what happened.

And that's about it.

 
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