Staff Photo: Jason Braverman — Louisville's Luke Hancock, left, celebrates with teammate Zach Price (25) following the Cardinals win over Michigan on Monday at the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA — Luke Hancock sat at the post-game press conference with the championship trophy in his lap like he was the proud father of a newborn baby.
Hancock had plenty of reasons to be all smiles on Monday night.
The Louisville junior was the improbable star of the NCAA men's championship game at the Georgia Dome. Hancock was the team's leading scorer with 22 points to help Louisville to an 82-76 win over Michigan.
"I'm blessed to be in this situation," Hancock said. "I'm happy for our team. I'm just so happy for these guys."
Hancock came off the bench to score his 22 points, just two days after scoring 20 points in the Cardinals' Final Four win over Wichita State. The two performances earned Hancock the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four honor. He's the first non-starter to win the award since 1939.
"As soon as we played Luke Hancock more, our offense evolved more," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said.
Hancock was one of the unsung stars of the national championship game. Michigan's Spike Albrecht didn't have one Division I college scholarship coming out of high school.
The backup freshman point guard made teams second guess that decision on a national stage. Albrecht scored 17 first-half points and was the team's second-leading scorer.
"I was just fortunately hitting shots," Albrecht said. "Teammates were finding me."
Albrecht entered the game when Trey Burke, the national player of the year, picked up his second foul early in the game. Albrecht hit four 3-pointers on the way to his season-high 17 points.
"If there was a point guard I want coming off the bench, it's Spike Albrecht," Burke said. "He's going to make plays for this team. I wasn't surprised by his performance today."
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Albrecht didn't have any college scholarship offers coming out of Crown Point High School in Indiana. He attended Northfield Mount Hermon Prep School in Massachusetts, where Appalachian State, a Division I-AA school, offered him before he eventually was spotted by Michigan and signed with the Wolverines.
"A year ago, I didn't have anyone looking at me," Albrecht said. "When I go out there I'm confident."
Albrecht averaged 1.8 points per game as a reserve to Burke. The most points he scored all year was seven against Florida in the Elite Eight and Ohio State during the regular season.
His 3-pointer with 6:00 left in the half put Michigan up 31-21. Then Hancock got the Cardinals back in the game with 14 points in the final 3:33 of the half, including four 3-pointers.
"I just try to play off Russ (Smith), Peyton (Siva) and Wayne (Blackshear) today. They're so good at getting you open shots," Hancock said. "Russ and Peyton lead the show and I just try to play off of them."
Hancock drew his third foul 90 seconds into the second half and went to the bench. He wasn't as much of a scoring threat in the second half until he hit a 3-pointer with to put Louisville ahead 76-66 with 3:27 left in the game and then hit a pair of free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
A national title seemed improbable just a few years ago. Hancock was barely recruited out of high school. Like Albrecht, he attended prep school were he grabbed the attention of a few Division I schools like George Mason who he signed with. Hancock had to sit out last season after transferring to Louisville and could only watch as the Cardinals reached last year's Final Four.
This season he averaged 7.7 points a game, but made his presence felt in Atlanta at the Final Four.
"I bet this is the best day of his life — so happy, so proud of him," Louisville senior Stephan Van Treese said. "He put in so much work and for everything he's done — he definitely talks the talk and walks the walk."