It wasn’t the prettiest game you’ll see, but Louisville got it done, all for fallen team-mate Kevin Ware.
The Cardinals edged a stubborn Wichita State 72-68 in a scrappy encounter that had no flair, no real flow but plenty of emotion and drive to succeed. When it was all said and done; Louisville had enough in the tank to pull away when it mattered.
Trailing 47-35 thanks to a three-pointer from Shockers’ forward Cleanthony Early with 13:40 remaining, Louisville looked lost. Offensively static and unable to get a good possession trip after trip, they looked to their bench – and they took over in spectacular fashion.
Russ Smith may have led the victors with 21 points, but the contribution Luke Hancock, who got 20 points and guard Tim Henderson gave in the second half, off the bench was the key to Louisville’s success.
From that moment when Louisville trailed by 12 points, Henderson quickly took over, by hitting two triples, back-to-back. A media timeout had no effect as Hancock scored inside to narrow the gap further to 49-43 and the tables had turned, Wichita looked out of ideas and they were allowing the Cardinals easy access to do what they wanted.
Despite a late fightback, Hancock stuck a dagger in the Shockers’ players and student supporters inside the Georgia Dome with a three to make it 65-50 with 2:09 to play.
Wichita State’s amazing journey was over.
Make no mistake about it; they came close to causing another upset. For the team that had knocked out number one seed Gonzaga and number two seed Ohio State, en route to their first Final Four since 1965, they might have been ousted by a Cardinals side, looking to go one better than last year when the all-conquering Kentucky side beat them in the final game but they should leave Atlanta with their heads held high.
Early led the ninth seeded Shockers with a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds.