ATLANTA — It was heard as Louisville’s Luke Hancock walked off the floor trying to pump up his team and fans to rally, after he scored all those big baskets and as he stood for a quick post-game interview.
After looking like the first game of the 2013 Final Four would be for Cinderella Wichita State, Hancock and the Louisville bench stole the show – and made sure there would be no more of those all-to-easy “Shocker” puns.
The Louisville bench player made big plays throughout his team’s comeback from 12 down as the Cardinals beat the Shockers, 72-68, on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome in the Final Four. The Cardinals advanced to Monday’s championship game as they go for their first national crown since 1986.
“We had to win with our second unit, but (Hancock) is not a second united player,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said in a postgame TV interview after the game. “He is probably the best offensive player we have.”
Hancock, who averaged 7.4 points per game, scored 20 points on nine field goal attempts. Five of Hancock’s six buckets came after Wichita State went up 47-35 with 13:36 remaining.
But Hancock wasn’t the only bench star, Tim Henderson contributed six of the 34 bench points, and he got all six on a pair of 3-pointers in a little more than a minute that shrunk the gap from 12 to six.
As Louisville, which found the inside clogged up and well-defended for much of the game, started to get better looks, the Shockers fell apart.
For most of the game – about 26 minutes in a row – Wichita State didn’t commit a turnover against Louisville’s vaunted press. But it had three in a 2:12 stretch in the first half that led to a 9-0 Cardinals run and seven in the final seven minutes of the game. Not all those turnovers turned into Louisville points, but they did enough to frustrate Wichita State’s offense.
Cleanthony Early was a beast with 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Shockers, but the Cardinals’ offense finally hummed late thanks to the bench.
Wichita State trailed by five with less than a minute to go and did its best to extend the game by getting three baskets in 35 seconds. But Louisville (34-5) got just enough from the foul line and benefitted from a quick jump ball call and the possession arrow to put Russ Smith on the line with 5 seconds remaining.
Smith made one shot – he missed seven of his 12 at the line – and that put the Cardinals up by four and propelled them into the championship. Smith scored 21 points.
Wichita State finished the season 30-9 in its first Final Four since 1965. The Shockers were also the first No. 9 seed to make the Final Four since 1979 (Penn), which was the last time a Missouri Valley team (Larry Bird’s Indiana State) was one of the last four teams.
But the Shockers’ run got stopped one away from the championship game.
“This is just a beginning,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “This is just a beginning for us.”