ATLANTA, April 7, 2013 — In a game that almost ended as an upset, one which Wichita State actually deserved to win, the indomitable University of Louisville Cardinals found their way, overcoming their own deficiencies, to beat the Shockers 72-68. But it took them down to the final four seconds to assure the win in the Atlanta Georgia Dome.
It was a nail-biter game, and Louisville owes its win in great part to forward Luke Hancock, always a reliable player, but who came in tonight and played some of the best ball in the whole tournament, for a total of 20 points. The majority of the players came through toward the end when it began to look as though the Cardinals would be on the losing side. Hancock, a clutch-shooter who shot three-pointers with ease and free throws as easily, was invaluable, along with junior guard Tim Henderson.
The high scorer for the Cardinals, however, was Russ Smith with 21, followed by Hancock’s 20, and Peyton Siva with 7. Cleanthony Early was high man for the Shockers with 24.
Cold First Half
The first half of the game was extremely unfulfilling; no one did well at shooting, in fact, no one seemed to know what to do on either team. Wichita’s F.C. Early used his 6’8” height well, reaching up to easily block a number of Louisville shots, while also accounting for one three-pointer and two field goals.
Cardinal playmaker Russ Smith had a slow takeoff, missing four field goals early and giving Louisville its first lead, four minutes into the game. The Cardinals have rarely had a scoreless period that long. Then forward Luke Hancock nailed a three-pointer and Louisville took its first lead on Peyton Seva’s first successful shots. The lead quickly changed hands six times. Each team had committed four turnovers and had five fouls.
Ware Absent Though There
It seemed as though both teams were literally feeling their way, sounding each other out so that missed goals were numerous. The problem may well have been the proverbial “elephant in the room,” the absence of Cardinals guard Kevin Ware from the floor, injured last week and on the bench this week, his badly injured right leg wrapped and propped up on pillows. It was as though he was “there” and yet was absent, as was his usual play-making and his way of holding the group together. The week’s emphasis had been on Ware, and it showed.
Wichita was ahead 17-13, while shooting only 31% against Louisville’s 33.3%. Wichita put up a great defense against what seemed to be the faster Cardinals, blocking shots and making three point goals difficult. Only two of Louisville’s starters had scored in the half, Seva and Smith. Wichita coach Gregg Marshall never seemed upset, never changed expression and just kept on urging his players to do what they do best.
On the other hand, Louisville coach Rick Pitino was a typical scenario of evolving expressions, exploding figuratively at errors and jumping up to issue orders to the struggling Cardinals.
Down by 1 at the Half.
For a while, it was Luke Hancock and Shocker Ron Baker going mano e mano as the score bounced from 23-19 to 22-21 and up and down. With 1:45 in the half, Smith hit his stride again with a three-pointer, putting the Cards up 25-24; a foul or two later, the half ended with Wichita ahead 26-25 in one of the lowest scoring games thus far, and the first time Louisville has gone to the dressing room behind in any of the tournament games.
With the game tied at 27, Malcolm Armstead scored two minutes into the new half for the Shockers. Hancock replied with a free throw, and Wichita freshman Ron Baker dropped one in from the edge making the score 32-28.
The Wichita team delivered a solid shock to the Cardinals, and the game stayed in favor of them for the next ten minutes. At this point Louisville woke up and decided it was time to assert their normal game talents and a close game began to emerge, little by little. Tim Henderson came off the bench and hit a three-pointer midway through the half and then proceeded to dunk another one plus two rebounds. Now things began to look up for the Cardinals.
Hancock and Henderson All the Way
Again it was reliable Luke Hancock who scored at 49-43, and 50-45, assisted by Chane Benahan to enable the Cardinals to outscore the Shockers 12 – 3 in a five-minute period. Seva played his usual fine game, at one point grabbing the ball out of Wichita hands and flying the length of the floor to score, with 4:29 left. At that point, Wichita was hitting 39% of its shots, but the Cardinals were replying with 43%.
The biggest lead of the game was still to come, and again it was Hancock and Smith, whose impossible shots evened things out and it looked as though the Cardinals would prevail. Hancock hit one to make it 71-68, Smith’s foul shot went through with 6.3 seconds to go, and the game was back in the hands of Coach Rick Pitino’s men. It should be remembered that Hancock also suffered a bad injury a year ago, when he tore the labrum in his shoulder, not as part of a regular game, but during a friendly pick-up match with friends.
As the clock ended, Kevin Ware could be seen on the sidelines, his head buried in his shirt, knowing that the “Win it for Ware” promotion had worked for his team. It seemed as though the effort of being there had emotionally drained the young man, and he was hustled out of the 70,000-seat stadium and doubtless back to a hotel to rest. He may not be the highest scoring guard of the team, but he has the sort of glue within him that keeps the always unpredictable flock of Cardinals on track.
The Cardinals will now meet the Michigan Wolverines in the final game on Monday, April 8, at 9:23 p.m., and Louisville hopes to take home another NCAA trophy.
Side Lines: For those who wondered at the Wichita State’s team name, the Shockers, it goes a long way back to the school’s heritage. Early on, students earned money by “shocking” or harvesting wheat in the wheat fields of the area, and in fact earlier games were played on a field with wheat stubble still showing. Their pep club members were called “Wheaties,” probably before General Mills used it. In 1904, the student football team manager, R. J. Kirk, came up with the nickname “wheatshockers,” which caught on and was later shortened to “Shockers.” The little character with wheat ends sticking out of his head became a favorite, and in later years was modified some to appear “more intimidating.”
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