Originally written on College Chalktalk  |  Last updated 4/7/13
When the Louisville Cardinals arrived at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Saturday evening, they knew they had shortened depth in the backcourt without the injured Kevin Ware and they also knew they had a more than game opponent in the Wichita State Shockers.  On top of this, problems piled higher than the concrete structure where they played. Starters Wayne Blackshear and Gorgui Dieng didn’t score.  Blackshear was so out of the game mentally and emotionally that he only saw nine minutes.  Guard Peyton Siva once again disappeared as he was only 1-of-9 from the floor with seven points and three assists in 34 minutes.  Fouls mounted as Louisville had been whistled for 20 to 11 for Wichita State midway through the second half. In addition, here was Wichita State, a 9-seed who had sent home the 1-seed and 2-seed in the West Region in Gonzaga and Ohio State, playing even better than they did against the Zags and the Buckeyes.  The Shockers matched up very well athletically with Louisville and anyone who thought this would be an obliteration in the favor of the Cardinals knew little about the game of college basketball en masse across the nation. That Shocker athleticism was a foil for Louisville and the Shockers almost pulled off the win.  They led 47-35 with 13:40 to play behind the play of nearly every Shocker that Greg Marshall put into the game.  The Shockers had 10 turnovers, but only four through the first 26 minutes as the Shockers were able to take advantage of Louisville when they could score and press. “We’re one of the better pressing teams in the country,” said Pitino, “They had four turnovers.  We were giving them everything but the kitchen sink, and they wouldn’t turn it over.  The flipside, they did a very good job with Peyton in getting him to shoot a low percentage.  So he’s (Gregg Marshall) a terrific coach, terrific.” Cleanthony Early once again made a huge impression on the big stage with a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds as his athleticism kept the Cardinals occupied to the point where they were ensconced with a way to neutralize him as Chane Behanan was able to finally do enough with him down the stretch. “Chane’s hands sometimes come into play where he doesn’t come up with the ball,” said Pitino, “But he was big inside tonight. More than that, I was so pleased that he wanted the ball. In crucial situations, he made free throws and wanted the ball.  That, to me, showed an awful lot.” The Cardinals looked dead in the water and had not been able to put together a run which would break the Shockers.  At that point non-scholarship junior Tim Henderson etched his name in Louisville lore as he hit a pair of threes on back-to-back possession to cut that 47-41 lead in half at 12:22. “I knew Tim had it in him,” said Siva, “When he got in the game and hit that first three, I was just ecstatic for him.  Then the next one, hit it again, first one he missed, Luke (Hancock) told him to keep shooting it.” From there, it was the stellar essence of a Rick Pitino defense and the clutch play of Hancock that would allow the Cardinals to finally take the lead.  The Cardinals held Wichita State to 1-of-9 from the field with five turnovers over an eight minute stretch that saw them take the lead at 56-55 on a triple by Hancock, with 6:31 remaining. From the 13:40 mark until the end of the game, the Cards cuffed the Shockers into 6-of-17 shooting with six turnovers. Hancock, a transfer from George Mason, was the chess piece that moved the Cardinals to a Monday night national championship date with Michigan.  He finished with 20 points and six boards in 31 minutes on 6-of-9 shooting as he nailed three triples. “You go out there and play like it’s any other game,” noted Hancock, “You try to have confidence shooting the ball.  I just shot it when I was open.  I got a bunch of great feeds from Russ and Peyton.  It’s all on them for finding me with open looks.” Hancock sealed Wichita State with 2:09 to play with another three and then answered a tip in by early with a layup and a 67-62 lead. “We want him to play as many minutes as possible because he’s the best passer, the clutchest shooter and free throw shooter, and one of the smartest players to know what to do in crucial situations,” Pitino said of Hancock, “So we bring him off the bench because we want to get extended minutes. There’s no questions that all of you can see he’s one of the better players on our team.  He just gave us a tremendous lift tonight.” Pitino noted the play of Smith and the Cardinals’ bench who outscored Wichita State 34-9 on the evening as they were a major reason why the Cardinals advance to a Monday night championship date with Michigan, a 61-56 winner over Syracuse. “Russ (Smith) had a good night,” commented coach Rick Pitino, after Smith scored 21 points and went 4-of-11 behind the arc, “Russ is our best free throw shooter, but four of our starters had the worst night of the season.  We had to win this game with our second unit of Steven Van Treese, Tim Henderson, one of the best sixth men in basketball, Luke Hancock, and Montrezl Harrell.  The reason our starters played poorly is because Wichita State is that good.  So we’re really happy to be playing in the final game.” - Ken Cross   Related Posts:Louisville’s destruction of Duke bolstered by in-game…Hancock, Harrell solidify Pitino’s depthCardinals went down swingingDefining “Russdiculous”Hard-nosed Siva helps Cardinals end skid
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