Rick Pitino knows how lasting one more win would be.
It would give everyone a reason to stay connected. It would create a lifetime bond.
To drive that point home, the Louisville coach showed his team the documentary on North Carolina State's improbable title in 1983, the one that left coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking desperately for someone to hug, the one that his players still get together to reminisce about - on and off camera.
"We weren't Cinderellas like N.C. State,'' Pitino said. "But I wanted them to understand that because (the Wolfpack) won a championship, for the rest of their lives they will sit around that table. Every year, they will get together - for the rest of their lives.''
Michigan coach John Beilein is surely trying to instill a similar urgency in his young team, which faces the No. 1 seeded Cardinals in the national championship game Monday night.
"It's really an eerie feeling,'' Beilein said. "This is it. There's two teams playing, and it's us and Louisville.''
The Cardinals (34-5) have lived up to their billing as the tournament's top overall seed, blowing through their first four opponents before rallying from a dozen points down in the second half to beat surprising Wichita State 72-68 in the national semifinals.
It's been quite a run for the Louisville athletic program, in general. The women's basketball team will be playing for a national championship Tuesday night, while the football team won a Big East title and stunned Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Even so, the Cardinals still feel a bit overlooked in their own state. The Kentucky Wildcats are the blue bloods of the bluegrass; Louisville is the school that knows it must work a little harder for a little love.
"We're not a who's who like Harvard and Yale in the alumni world,'' Pitino said Sunday. "We're a blue-collar school that supports each other. One of the coolest places I've ever worked.''
Football rules on the Michigan campus - rightly so, said Tim Hardaway Jr., given that program's long, storied history.
"We still have a ways to go,'' said Hardaway, the Wolverines' junior guard. "Football has a lot more national championships than we do.''
Maybe so, but the Wolverines (31-7) haven't exactly been pushovers on the hardwood.
They won a national title in 1989, beating Seton Hall in overtime. They've lost three other times in the championship. The program is best known, of course, for the Fab Five, that group of five stellar recruits who led Michigan to back-to-back finals appearances in 1992 and `93.
This team is cut from the same mold, with three freshmen starters and two other first-year players who made big contributions in a semifinal victory over Syracuse.
"The Fab Five was a great team. I mean, a really great team,'' said freshman guard Caris LeVert, who came off the bench to score eight points against the Orange. "They did some great things for our school.''
But these guys can do something the Fab Five never did - win it all.
"Just making it to the Final Four, we are going to hang up a banner in the Crisler Center,'' said another freshman, Glenn Robinson III. "But we aren't done. Having the chance to hang another one up for a national championship ... is all kind of surreal to us.''
Both teams got to this point with crucial assists from the backups.
LeVert and Spike Albrecht - yep, another freshman - both hit a pair of 3-pointers in Michigan's semifinal win, points that were desperately needed with player of the year Trey Burke struggling through a brutal night. The sophomore guard went 1-for-8 and finished with seven points, just the second time this season he's been held in single digits.
Burke said he'll gladly cede scoring duties to someone else again Monday if the Cardinals take a similar approach to Syracuse.
"Pretty much every time I got the ball, I had two people in my face,'' he said. "I tried not to force anything, but I probably forced two or three shots. That 3 I hit (from way out and his only basket of the game) wasn't a good shot. But I try not to force things and just look for different ways to find the open man.''
Louisville, inspired by the gruesome injury to Kevin Ware but needing others to step up while he's down, got an even bigger contribution off the bench than Michigan.
Luke Hancock scored 20 points. Walk-on Tim Henderson, moving up in the rotation because of Ware's broken leg, knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers that turned the momentum when it looked as though Wichita State might pull off another shocker.
There's always a chance for the more obscure players to step up on the biggest stages.
"Those guys, not that you don't pay attention to them, but your strategy is not toward them,'' Pitino said. "We're all trying to stop the great players defensively, choreograph our defensive plan to stop the great players.''
But there's no doubt that Michigan needs Burke to have a much better game, especially against Louisville's fearsome press, just as the Cardinals will be counting on Russ Smith to lead the way. He scored 21 points in the semifinals despite a woeful night at the foul line.
Smith is on the verge of completing quite a personal journey, considering it looked for a while like he might not even finish his career with the Cardinals. Unhappy with his playing time and constantly sparring with Pitino, the now-junior guard considered transferring after his freshman season.
Boy, he's sure glad he stayed.
"I was leaving, but I talked to my dad and decided to come back,'' Smith remembered. "I decided to work hard and try to earn some minutes.''
He still gets into it with Pitino from time to time - remember, the coach dubbed him "Russdiculous'' for some of his wacky shots and perplexing antics - but it's hard to envision where this team might be without him.
"I just try to make winning plays,'' Smith said. "I don't look at myself as a point guard or a shooting guard. I look at myself as a winning player.''
Pitino is certainly a winner.
He's already the first coach to lead three schools to the Final Four. Now, he's got a chance to become the first to win national titles at two schools, having led Kentucky to a championship in 1996.
Pitino isn't worried about personal accolades.
He'd rather have a lifelong connection with this team.
"I haven't thought about it for one second,'' Pitino insisted. "Everything we do is about the team, about the family. I'd be a total hypocrite if I said (winning another title is) really important. It really is not important. I want to win because I'm part of this team. That's it.''
Rick Pitino knows how lasting one more win would be.
Hrdlicka, Teter pour ‘heart’ into Zebra soccer program
For the past four years, Claremore High School seniors Katelin Teter and Nick Hrdlicka have represented the ‘heart and soul’ of the Lady Zebra and Zebra soccer programs.
The soccer duo will join seven other seniors on Friday night for Homecoming against Collinsville at Lantow Field.
9 straight for Lady Zebras
Claremore sophomore forward Bailey Steckline got the ‘hat-trick’ plus one Tuesday night in the Lady Zebras’ 10-0 win over Tulsa Memorial at LaFortune Stadium.
Steckline tallied two goals in the first half, and added two more in the second to complete her impressive night.
Tulsa Memorial holds off Zebras, 2-1
Tulsa Memorial scored a pair of first-half goals to steal the momentum away from the Claremore Zebras, as well as the 2-1 win Tuesday night in Metro Lakes Conference action at LaFortune Stadium.
BASEBALL: Whatley, Howe power Zebras past Tahlequah
Claremore’s Matt Whatley has proven over the past four years that he’s one of the toughest outs in the Metro Lakes Conference.
On Tuesday, Whatley went 3-for-4 with two singles and a triple while sparking the Zebras to a 12-2 win over Tahlequah in five innings at American Legion Park.
BASEBALL: Dewey takes pair from Sequoyah
It’s very difficult to win when you can’t score.
Class 4A third-ranked Dewey blanked homestanding Sequoyah 7-0 and 2-0 in a district doubleheader on Tuesday, improving to 21-3 with a dominating two-hit pitching performance in the opener and a four-hitter in the nightcap.
SOCCER: Sequoyah topples No. 15 Catoosa, 1-0
Sequoyah boys soccer coach Bob Campbell had one phrase to sum up his feelings following the Eagles’ game with 15th ranked Catoosa at home Tuesday night.
“We’re in the driver’s seat.’’
Alex Bourgeois scored late in the first half and Sequoyah made it stand up for a 1-0 victory over the Indians in a showdown for the district lead.
Jackson sprints Zebras to 1st place at OBU Relays
Claremore senior sprinter Tyler Jackson felt the need for speed Wednesday afternoon at the Oklahoma Baptist University High School Invitational.
Jackson notched a pair of first-place victories in the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter dash to help Claremore earn 130 points for top honors.
BASEBALL: Arkansas Tech roughs up ‘Cats
The Rogers State University baseball team had a disappointing finish in its home finale as No. 12-ranked Arkansas Tech blanked the Hillcats 11-0 Tuesday evening in non-conference action from the Diamond Sports Complex.
BASEBALL: Southwest Baptist slips past NSU, 5-3
The Northeastern State baseball team lost 5-3 to Southwest Baptist Thursday afternoon at Dobson Field.
The RiverHawks (19-22, 15-18 MIAA) held a 3-0 lead early in the contest, but a late rally from the Bearcats (23-18, 19-13 MIAA) and costly errors from the visitors allowed the home team to secure the series-opening triumph.
WOMEN'S TENNIS: Conference champion NSU lands top seed in MIAA tourney
The No. 31-ranked Northeastern State women's tennis team has drawn the top seed in the 2014 MIAA Women's Tennis Championship, the league announced Thursday morning.
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