Sometimes it’s not how many fouls your team has but which players have them.
That was the case for Michigan on Monday night in Atlanta, where the Wolverines lost the NCAA championship game to Louisville, 82-76.
With Trey Burke exiled to the bench with two fouls for most of the first half and Mitch McGary being yanked in and out of the game, especially after picking up his fourth foul in the second half, Michigan’s two most important players sat too long.
Even though Michigan extended its lead to 12 points with Burke out — thanks to the hot shooting of Spike Albrecht — when Louisville’s Luke Hancock started to shoot the Cardinals back into the game, Burke’s presence could have controlled the pace and slowed down Hancock.
Instead, a 12-point lead evaporated to a single point at halftime, and in the second half, a relentless Louisville defensive attack and dominance on the offensive glass gassed the youthful Wolverines.
McGary looked overwhelmed and tentative, in part, because of his foul situation, and he never establish himself as a presence in the paint. Louisville’s inside game abused Michigan. Their tenacity and experience won out in the end.
They were the better team, but not by much.
Michigan almost had enough left in the tank to pull out a victory, but a few questionable calls (Burke’s clean block on Peyton Siva, just to name one), an inaccurate count of team fouls by Michigan coach John Beilein, and the tournament’s youngest team showing their age (just a bit) down the stretch had an impact on the game’s outcome.
Nevertheless, the total minutes played by Burke (26) and McGary (29) are the real story to Michigan’s demise.
Without Burke running the show late in the first half and McGary’s increasing look of bewilderment as his foul total escalated were too much for the Wolverines overcome.