Albrecht steps in to fill void
Freshman played key role in Wolverines' first-half run
ATLANTA -- Spike Albrecht’s shining moment was just a little too short.
Michigan’s freshman guard, the backup to the national player of the year, saw his chance to burst on the scene Monday night in the Georgia Dome against Louisville in the national championship game.
With starting point guard Trey Burke riding the bench for much of the first half with early foul trouble, it was Albrecht who coach John Beilein trusted to take Michigan to the school’s first national title since 1989.
His energy and scoring prowess off the bench propelled Michigan to an early lead, but as his shooting groove drifted away in the second half and the Cardinals keyed on the inexperienced freshman, Michigan’s title hopes waned as well as they succumbed to Louisville 82-76.
Burke scored a quick seven points in the game’s first 2:40. His Wolverines led 7-3, and it appeared his offensive struggles against Syracuse, when he went 1-of-8 from the floor, had subsided. He had already matched his scoring total from Saturday.
But after an early foul, Beilein decided to replace Burke with Albrecht, who had averaged 1.4 points going into the Final Four and less than 10 minutes per game during the NCAA tournament.
Yes, he was a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc coming into Monday night, but this was supposed to be Burke’s chance to shine, to redeem himself from his lowly offensive night against Syracuse and back up his numerous national player of the year awards.
No one told Albrecht that.
After Louisville sprinted back to tie the game at 7-7 and Burke took a seat, Albrecht knocked down two 3-pointers, part of a 10-4 Michigan run.
Even as he sat on the bench, Burke said he knew that his team was in good hands with Albrecht taking the Wolverines up the floor.
“If there was a point guard I want coming off the bench, it's Spike Albrecht,” Burke said. “Each and every game he's going to give you 110 effort. He's going to make plays for you. He may not win the look test, but he's going to make plays for this team.”
When Beilein decided to put Burke back in, Albrecht had done enough to keep his spot on the court for the time being.
“I have so much trust in that young man in the roll he's been on,” Beilein said. “In the early season practices, Spike's team always won. They always won. Even when I went and saw him at Brewster, I watched five or six games, his team always won, like pickup ball in their open gyms.
“I have so much confidence. I don't have to tell him. He and I must think a lot alike because he's got so much confidence.”
What he did in the next 12:49 earned Albrecht a spot in Michigan’s lineup for the rest of the half.
After Burke reentered the Wolverine lineup with just under 13 minutes left in the first half, he became the facilitator, rather than the scorer.
He found Albrecht wide open at the top of the key for his third 3-pointer of the night, which surpassed his previous career high of seven that he had hit twice this season.
Less than a minute later, Burke earned his second foul in the half, sending him to the bench once again. He logged just six minutes, failing to reach the bucket after his early seven points.
But Albrecht continued to make up for Burke’s absence.
“Trey, with two fouls, Coach Beilein doesn't play guys with two fouls in the first half, so I knew I was in the rest of the half,” Albrecht said. “I was just fortunately hitting shots. Teammates were finding me.”
The freshman hit another 3-pointer from the top of the key with 6:00 left in the first half to go along with two more buckets and a free throw, totaling 17 first-half points.
He shot 6-of-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from beyond the arc, tying a record for consecutive 3-pointers without a miss to start an NCAA tournament, first set by Florida State’s Sam Cassell in 1993.
His layup with 3:56 left in the half gave the Wolverines their largest lead of the half at 33-21. Albrecht was clearly the hot hand.
But he didn’t take a single shot the rest of the first half.
Louisville responded with a 16-5 run to end the half, and though the Wolverines were still up a point, 38-37, going into the locker room, much of their momentum seemed to be lost.
But with Burke on the bench for the entirety of Louisville’s late run, Albrecht went into the locker room feeling just fine with a one-point lead.
“Yeah, I mean, we were rolling there in the first half, but Louisville kind of went on a good run,” he said. “We were still up one. The player of the year [Burke] played five minutes. I felt going into the second half really good. Unfortunately we fell a little bit short.”
But as former Michigan point guard Jalen Rose said, he knew Beilein couldn’t start Albrecht in the second half, even with the groove the freshman was in.
“You’ve still got to go with your conventional lineup and bring him [Albrecht] in because also he’s a freshman playing on this stage,” Rose said. “He scored 17 points. I’m pretty sure he was in here gassed. You’ve got to give him a chance to regroup and get ready for the second half.”
The Wolverines managed without him, maintaining their single point lead into the first media timeout, when Beilein decided it was time to let his freshman continue his own personal highlight reel.
But he couldn’t find where he left off.
Playing alongside with Burke, the two switched off bringing the ball up the floor the start the Wolverines’ offense, but Rose said he noticed the Cardinals keying up on the young freshman rather than the national player of the year.
Louisville wasn’t going to let this modern-day version of Ollie from the movie Hoosiers trash their title hopes.
“Instead of denying Trey the first or second pass or doing a run and jump on him, they allowed him to get the ball and then they did the same plays on him in reverse,” Rose said. “That’s what good adjustments and good coaching does, and you have to give Louisville a lot of credit for that.”
Albrecht committed his second turnover of the evening with 13:38 to go in the game, and Louisville’s Russ Smith made him pay, knocking down a 3-pointer on the next possession.
Just more than two minutes later, he missed his first 3-pointer of the tournament, falling just one long shot short of setting the tournament record for 3s in a row to start their tournament.
He missed his only other shot of the second half -- a layup -- with 5:13 remaining, with Michigan down just three points 67-64.
Burke managed to regroup in the second half, having his own 17-point outing to finish with 24 points to lead the Wolverines. But Albrecht, the spark that ignited Michigan to take a double-digit lead in the first half, was held scoreless in the game’s final 23:56 after scoring 17 points in just 11:38 in the first half.
Albrecht’s roommate, fellow freshman guard Nik Stauskas, said his teammate took the loss especially hard in the locker room after the final buzzer sounded.
To see his shining moment blossom and disappear in a matter of minutes, on the game’s biggest stage, Stauskas said it was tough for Albrecht to handle.
But Stauskas knew his roommate had this in him all along, and regardless of the game’s final outcome, he was proud to see him play to his potential.
“Spike has been working hard all year long to get to this point,” Stauskas said. “People have doubted him all year long just because he kinda plays behind Trey, and he’s a six-foot white kid, and no one really expects anything from him. For him to come out there [Monday night] and play like that, it’s unbelievable.
“A lot of people just think they can attack him because he’s a small kid, but he showed [Monday night] what he was really made of, and he kind of carried us in that first half. I am proud of him, and I know he took this loss really tough. I am proud of him. He’s the man.”