ATLANTA (Detroit Free Press) -- In the end, the road was just a little too long.
Michigan took its season as far as it could go, with a lead in the second half of the national championship game, but couldn't overcome the nation's best team.
Despite a stunning first half and unexpected heroics, Louisville was just too athletic and was too much to handle, ending U-M's title dreams, 82-76 before 74,326 at the Georgia Dome.
Michigan (31-8) ended one of the great seasons in program history, just the fifth time in the national title game, just short because it couldn't contain the Cardinals.
The last time they finished with a title, in 1989, most of these players weren't alive. The last time the Big Ten finished with a national title, Michigan State in 2000, even the seniors were in elementary school.
This was to be a title to erase the frustration. The five years of just-misses following the title game runs, the decade of missed NCAA Tournaments and the first five years of coach John Beilein's rebuilding process.
That was a lot of history to overcome.
Despite Trey Burke's best effort and his 24 points, even giving his body for the cause, it wasn't enough.
He needed a supporting cast and, after halftime, it wasn't how he dreamed.
For five games, this tournament was all about Mitch McGary as he carried the Wolverines to the title game with a run unlike any freshman big man in years.
But he didn't have enough in the finale. With 9:11 remaining in the game, he picked up his fourth foul, sending him to bench with four points.
When sat down, U-M was within two. When he returned less than five minutes later it was a seven-point deficit and looked bleak, growing to 10.
Instead of fending off a charge as they did early in the game, the second half became about survival.
The young Wolverines offered a bevy of turnovers, missed chances and were unnerved by Louisville's athleticism.
They went down riding their star though.
Burke did everything he could in the second half to keep U-M alive, on an array of bomb three-pointers and insane flipping drives to the hoop.
He even hit the deck hard with 6:36 remaining staying down a minute, taking U-M's hope with him.
Unfortunately for Michigan, his unbelievability extended to the officials.
With U-M down by just three with 5:09 remaining, at 67-64 he cleanly blocked Peyton Siva from behind. But the officials were stunned and called a foul.
That pushed the lead to five, then seven on the next play and it became too much to overcome.
From there, it was an uphill battle.
Even with the Fab Five in the building, the quintet who brought the last national final appearance, this game started to be about Michigan's new freshmen.
After a season of them playing in groups of 2, 3, or 4, because of Burke's foul trouble - he sat the final 11 minutes of the first half - they all hit the court together with eight minutes to go.
But the least heralded made the biggest impact.
Spike Albrecht took over, scoring 17 points by bombing threes, driving the lane and becoming the aggressive monster, knowing he wasn't going to be taken out while psuhign U-M's lead out to 12 points.
But there was that other end of the court, the defensive end that plagued them all year until this tournament.
That's where they reverted to form, watching Louisville's Luke Hancock drop four threes to make halftime intriguing with U-M holding a 38-37 lead.
In the end, defense betrayed them as Hancock finished with 22, ending short on stops.
And just short of history.
By Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press sports writer