Luke Hancock keeps composure to lift Cardinals past Shockers, 72-68
ATLANTA -- When Kevin Ware’s leg snapped unnaturally and horrifically in front of Louisville’s bench less than a week ago, players collapsed on the court, turned away in horror and some cried.
Except Luke Hancock.
The junior forward knelt by Ware’s side, praying over him, saying later that he didn’t want Ware to feel alone.
As calm as he was in the face of horror in the Elite Eight, he was just as poised Saturday night in the Georgia Dome as Louisville faced a Final Four collapse.
“I’m happy I have a guy like that on our team,” said junior guard Russ Smith. “A guy who can step up in big situations. He always has his head in the game.”
And a knack for timing.
With game-changing three-pointers on a night when Louisville’s stars dimmed, it was Hancock and a cast of reserves who helped overcome ninth-seeded Wichita State’s 12-point lead for a 72-68 Final Four victory. Louisville will play in the NCAA tournament title game against a No. 4-seeded team in either Michigan or fellow Big East team Syracuse.
The Cardinals are making their first tournament title appearance since 1986 and Coach Rick Pitino will attempt to win his second championship since 1996 at Kentucky.
Hancock, a George Mason transfer who overcame two shoulder injuries, led the Cardinals with 20 points on six-for-nine shooting, hitting three three-pointers. He hit an open three-pointer with 2 minutes 4 seconds remaining for a 65-60 lead.
“I’m a lot older than these guys,” he said. “Just being around and playing. Poise in the Kevin situation is different than being poised in a game. In a game you just try to treat like any other game.”
Center Gorgui Dieng took only one shot, top free-throw shooter Smith made only five of 12 free throws and Peyton Siva was only one for nine shooting.
Hancock was not the only reserve to star.
Tim Henderson, a walk-on receiving minutes only because of Ware’s injury, hit back-to-back three-pointers to help Louisville draw within 47-41. He had made just four three-pointers all season and scored just three points in Big East play.
For most of the game, Wichita State appeared headed for a surprise ending. The Shockers, who appeared in their first Final Four since 1965, withstood Louisville’s press for most of the game and survived nearly 26 minutes without a turnover.
They turned the ball over only four times in the first half but committed seven in the game’s closing minutes.
Cleanthony Early led the Shockers with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
“They proved not only that they belong but they can play with the best,” Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall said of his team.
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